Image credit: Issac James Manayath

Confronted by giant online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart that are eating into their sales, major booksellers in the city are now looking to boost their online presence.

“The future is online,” said Prabhu S., who manages the Velachery outlet of a prominent bookseller and has 13 years of experience handling book sales. He asked not to name his store as he was discussing sales figures and business plans.

“On an average we sell 120-150 books per day. It used to be ten times [higher] in 2004,” he said.

He said his company now sold more online than through its physical outlets.

“I don’t think the physical stores have a bright future,” he said.

Prabhu had worked at various bookstores since 2004.

“When I entered the field, many book stores were bigger than 5000 sq feet,” he said. “Look at the size today,” he said pointing to his own store which he said was less than 600 sq feet.

“Here we keep only the best sellers,” he said.

One of the main reasons for the shrinking space was the decline in the footfall over the last 6-7 years.

Prabhu lamented that the new generation readers rarely visited the bookstores.

“When you look at [the] book buyers who walk in, they are mostly 40 plus. Youngsters do come since our store is in a mall. But often they just turn a few pages and leave without buying anything,” he said.

However, it is not just the youngsters who are buying online, but also an increasing number of elders are flocking there these days.

Prabhu agreed.

He feared that once the current buyers stop buying the books, the physical stores would struggle to remain relevant. “Maybe 10 years later we may not need to operate [physical] stores,” he said.

Das Prakash who is the Assistant Manager at the Odyssey store on the East Coast Road agreed.

“One of the biggest ways the online shopping has affected [our books sales] is that we have lost the new generation readers,” he said adding that older customers continue to visit the store.

He agreed that Odyssey’s sales had taken a hit since the advent of the giant retailers. However, he refused to discuss the company’s online plans.

Balaji who manages the Starmark store at the Phoenix Mall asserted that the “real booklovers” would continue buy from the physical bookstores.

However, even some of the bookstore visitors agreed that they “buy more” online.

“I come here often, but buy only once in a while,” said Ram Nath (54) who owns a big collection of books. These days, he is shopping online. “Online has its advantages. I buy books [for] Kindle. [I] can read them anywhere at any time.” he said. He was once a regular buyer at book stores. Today, he enjoys walking into a bookstore to “turn pages.”

“I usually buy online,” said Luke Francis (16) with a sense of pride. “I come to bookstores only to buy comics,” he said. “I want to see the graphics and feel the pages [of comic books],” he added.