World Book Day: Bookstores Turn To Social Media During Lockdown
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With no counter sales or deliveries taking place due to the nationwide lockdown, business has taken a hit for bookstores which are now trying to keep their loyal customers engaged by focusing on the social media platform. Readers have placed online orders and bookstores are keeping a track of each order and are hoping to cater to every such customer once the situation gets better.
Ajay Mago, Publisher of Om Books International, says the company's retail chain of bookstores, Om Book Shop, has had to close temporarily in Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru, since the malls in which these are located have closed down.
"Sales have plummeted by nearly 80 per cent. However, we are now focusing on audio books and kindle editions," he told PTI.
Anuj B Malhotra, owner of Delhi's iconic Bahrisons bookstore, seems worried. "There is nothing to cope (with the situation), everything is shut. No counter sales, no deliveries, zero income - only expenses. Approximately 60 per cent of the taxpayers are small business and shopkeepers - where's the government aid to close down? Who's going to pay the bills," he asks.
According to Swagat Sengupta, CEO of Apeejay Oxford Bookstores Private Limited, though stores are closed, the chain has not let its or its readers' morale go down.
"We have allowed the customer to place online orders with us and will soon launch our app for smooth and convenient transactions. We are keeping a track of each order and will cater to every such customer, through doorstep deliveries, once the situation gets better," he says.
"To overcome the crisis and maintain our bottom-line, we have rationalised all our operating expenses. Also, we have squeezed our fixed expenses to a minimum and are negotiating deeper terms with various business partners," Mr. Sengupta adds.
The government on Tuesday allowed opening of shops selling educational books during the ongoing lockdown.
Narendra Kumar, former president of Federation of Indian Publishers and ex-chairman DPS group of schools, says in these turbulent times, there is a need to emphasise on building of a knowledge society which has been part of India's great tradition and heritage. He also wants books to be made part of essential commodities.
Amrita Somaiya, owner of Kitab Khana in Mumbai, says the whole industry and the country are suffering. "We are taking it a day at a time. We hope that we will be able to reopen as soon as possible but of course taking into account the scenario in Mumbai," she says.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Kolkata-based Seagull Books is currently working from home and asked readers to keep buying its books. "We are now able to process online orders in the US and the UK, thanks to the commitment and bravery of our distributor, the University of Chicago Press. In India, where we are still under lockdown, we will process your online orders as soon as we can, without endangering the health of our colleagues who pack and ship," it said.
Landmark Stores, which has 13 outlets across India in addition to seven hotel bookstores and five airports stores, says being responsible means social and physical distancing as well as adhering to the government directives. Om Books International is currently promoting e-books through its social media channels hoping to bridge the gap, its CEO Sanjay Mago says.
"We are in constant touch with our authors in finding ways to promote their books through social media as this platform is now being used by all most everyone," he says.
Aleem Siddiqui, who looks after PR and corporate communications at Om Books International, says it's impossible to project any numbers right now. "Business is suffering due to the pandemic. All numbers are off the table. Currently consumers are referring to limited spending which have forced PR and marketing teams to focus all their attention towards aggressive and sustained online promotions including digital media like Amazon Kindle service, bloggers, Instagram and Twitter," he says. But even these promotional activities are not helping greatly, he adds.
Oxford Bookstore has initiated a series of brand communication events around books and authors to help customers stay connected while fighting COVID-19.
"The lockdown which has held our avid readers inside their homes with no possible ways to reach us, has opened doors to newer form of dialogues with trending hashtags like #booksconnectus and #socialdistancing, and with communication around books coming to your rescue in these tough times of COVID which started as early as March 16," says Mr. Sengupta.
According to Ms. Somaiya, when the lockdown started, Kitab Khana began with book recommendations to help readers divert their minds to live storytelling sessions for children.
"Thereafter, we also had a 14-day poetry reading session in collaboration with the Indian Novels Collective called Poetry Live! A virtual campfire, it brought 71 poets from across the country coming together every evening to reflect on the current situation," she says.
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