Got the blues Get a book!

Written by Sulekha Nair | Updated: Jun 28 2009, 07:14am hrs
For 24-year-old history lover, Jeanette Rodrigues, visiting a bookstore once in two months is a detour she cannot miss. Each trip sees her wallet lighter by around Rs 4,000. Thats because the genre I buy is historical fiction, which I cannot get from a library. Joshua Philip, a Bangalore-based horticulturist, visits a bookstore every fortnight to check on the latest books on horticulture, but usually ends up buying a bestseller. It is a compulsive disorder that people are loathe to give up, said Philip.

The book publishing industry is considered recession proof. The insecurity plaguing the software industry has made 25-year-old Manish Kumar, a software engineer in Bangalore, pause. Earlier, I would not think twice before buying books but I cant afford to do that now. Difficult times can puncture the appetites of readers too. Software engineers have reduced the frequency of their trips to book stores since the recession, informed Vidya Virkar, MD, Strand Book Stall, Bangalore.

Bookstores and publishers admit book sales have gone down and there is a decline in the overall growth rate. The main slowdown has come from book retailing, reveals Kapil Kapoor, Director, Roli Books. In the last two years, we saw many new large format stores open in metros and mini metros. That expansion was put on hold late last year. Book retailing took a big hit, Kapoor felt it is still time of growth though the rate of growth has declined in the third and fourth quarter of financial year 2008-09. It is now looking up again in first quarter of FY 09-10.

Some like Kerala-based DC Books have seen a 31% growth this year. Yet, says Ravi Dee Cee, MD, business is slow. People are feeling the pinch of money and are becoming judicious. However, with a little more time at their disposal due to cut in jobs, they prefer to read.

Those who read will continue to read. Jerry Pinto, author, columnist and a voracious reader says, Very few in India read and so recession cannot impact book sales. He has not pruned his budget of Rs 5 lakh a year for books. People tell me there is a recession and then say that X industrialists wealth has diminished from 30 million to 10 million. Now, is that the recession they are talking about

A league of its own

When the going gets tough, what kind of books do people prefer Some genres show up as favourites even during the tough times like self-help books. Anuj Bahri, CEO, Bahrisons, Delhi says, Non fiction is picking up. The Secret by Rhonda Bryne continues to be on the best-seller list. Self-help books provide people solutions to their difficulties. Landmark, which has 11 stores across India, finds self-help books remain favourites. Said Madhu M, Category Head, Chennai, The Secret, 24x7 Marriage, Chicken Soup series have been doing well.

Paulo Coelho, Aravind Adiga, Kunal Basu, Advaita Kala, Anirban Bose, John Gray, Cecilia Ahern and Kenneth Blanchard are on the top, says Lipika Bhushan, Marketing Manager, Harper-Collins India.

This is also the best time to pick up a new skill or hone one. Barun Chakraborty, MD, Chakrabortys Bookstore, College Street, Kolkata feels, Some people are learning or finetuning their skills, for cookery books are selling more. Entrepreneurship, organisational behaviour, strategy, current economic situation etc sell well during these times, said Dr Sugata Ghosh, Vice-President, Commissioning, Sage.

The purchasing power of people have gone down, avers Sivaraman Balakrishnan, Deputy Manager (Marketing), Crossword Book stores, But sales for some books are picking up. For instance, Nandan Nilekanis Imagining India is doing phenomenally well. Virkar of Strand Book Stall would see software engineers at Bangalore running up a bill of Rs 3,000-Rs 4,000 monthly, but not anymore. Strand offers a minimum 20% discount on every purchase and yet people are being cautious, says Virkar.

The cash registers might not be ringing but the book stores are not setting off the alarm bells yet.