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Conceptualised in a JNU Hostel Room in 2018, the Readers Book Store is a Well-Known Name in Manipur Today

It will be interesting to know that the Readers Book Store at the Manipur University does not have an owner but is a collective run by a group of research scholars and post graduate students. An innovative concept in book selling it has come a long way in just a couple of years and is doing yeoman service especially to the students community and the younger generation. We have Kulajit Maisnam answering some questions representing the collective which will give us an insight into the books business in Manipur and how in spite of the pandemic and curtailed shopping readers can still keep their reading uninterrupted with new titles and also stay safe with facilities like home delivery.

 

FPSJ: How is your bookstore doing during the lockdown in comparison to the situation before the lockdown?

KM: Ours is a brick and mortar bookstore, we never had delivery services earlier, but we had to chance our position since the national lockdown began. Visitors have stopped coming and the only way we can engage is through home delivery. We started delivering books during the lockdown to survive, otherwise we would have been locked for a very long period. It is good that the Government has given permissions for home delivery services otherwise the story would be very different. The only difference during this pandemic and the subsequent lockdown is that there are no visitors at all. We are hoping that visitors will be there as there is an ease in the lockdown but will be very restricted as the pandemic is still a reality.

FPSJ: How much approximate percentage increase or decline in sales have you seen during this period?

KM: Our sales have not declined during the lockdown, partly because we started delivering and also people are reading during this lockdown. Also many students have come home from their respective colleges and universities and also corporate giants like Amazon and Flipkart have slowed down their services in Imphal.

FPSJ: Did people read and write more during the lockdown? Any new writers or books which reached your bookstore?

KM: People are reading during this pandemic and subsequent lockdown; probably reading engages people positively during this difficult time. This is our predictions from our sales volume.

We have Linthoi Chanu’s debut WARI (second edition) which was not in the market for a while and Parratt and Parratt’s Queen Empress Vs Tikendrajit Prince of Manipur: The Anglo Manipur Conflict of 1891 which was first published in 1992 and thereafter stopped publication for years. And in the new release, we have Hanjabam Eds Media in Manipur (Vol 1 & 2) and Jiten Yumnam’s Dams and Indigenous People’s Rights in Manipur which is yet to be released officially.

FPSJ: What kind of books are people buying mostly from your bookstore?

KM: We majorly deal with history, politics and other social sciences, vernacular literature pertaining to North East and Manipur in particular. Hence, our sales of books are in this broad area. This has become our trade mark.

FPSJ: Is your bookshop a normal one for only business or you have some things you want to do for Manipur’s readers?

KM: Ours is less business and more of a set goal to achieve. We are run by a group of research scholars and post graduate students. We want people to read and reflect; we believe that mere reading a text is useless until and unless one develops an ability for a critical reflection on the text read. We will proceed in this goal, we will support book clubs, libraries and reading circles wherever and whenever we can as a means to the set goal.

FPSJ: How do you see the future prospects of your bookstore?

KM: We cannot predict what will be tomorrow. Honestly speaking, globally independent bookstores are severely affected by the corporate giants like Amazon.

FPSJ: Tell us some things about your bookshop. How and when it was started?

KM: It was started over a conversation by a research scholar in JNU with me, and later was named and conceptualised in his hostel in the early winter of 2018 over a drink of rum. In late March, we started off carrying some 100 kilos of books having around hundred or more titles. We drove an old Maruti Esteem car till Imphal from Delhi which was to be handed to an ex-faculty of Delhi University. We remained idle or stagnant till the winters of 2019 and it was during the Imphal Book fair of 2019 we could reach out to many people and book lovers especially students and researchers. Now if not popular, we are little more known by readers in Imphal. And we hope we will reach out to more readers in the coming days.

FPSJ: How is the bookselling business doing in Manipur/Imphal? Is there danger of some booksellers shutting down because of failure during lockdown?

KM: Book selling business (if I have to use the word) is not like any other business, the seller has to know books to curate them with care. Books are for a lifetime, unlike daily consumable goods; a single purchase will last generations. Hence, it always has an accompanying stagnancy also. Therefore, we need to keep updating new titles and new releases. A lot of information gathering is required. Yes we have witnessed major book stores in Imphal locked their shops during this lockdown. We can’t really comment on how things generally are for the book selling business during this lockdown. We do not have any union or associations for book sellers in Imphal.

FPSJ: Is the booksellers business affected by ecommerce, ebooks and Amazon?

KM: BIG TIME!

FPSJ: How much market is there for non-educational and non-professional books? What kind of books do you keep?

KM: We majorly deal with books related to academics for higher education suitable for graduates, post graduates and research scholars. And we only keep the primary text and not study materials even though we deal with books for higher education.

FPSJ: Do you get a good number of online and phone orders. How was your experience of home delivery during the lockdown?

KM: We do receive a good number of orders as it is the only way to purchase during this pandemic. And since we are not automated it is a tedious job for us with less human resources and adequate technology.

FPSJ: What can reading books during lockdown do in terms of mental rest and time pass that other activities cannot do?

KM: We only say to everyone, especially the younger generations to exploit this pandemic for self-improvement and expanding their horizon of knowledge. And we also believe that book reading is one of the ways to stay positive during these difficult times; this has also been suggested many times by mental health professionals on many instances on various mediums.

FPSJ: Is it difficult times for readers who like to browse books at the bookshop before buying? Is there fear of coming to the bookshop? Will they prefer e-books now?

KM: Few came, during this unlock. Those who really want to browse and buy, they do come, but you can count them, they are very less. But possibly the number will increase in days to come, and we are fully prepared for that. We will take all the necessary precautions and follow protocols for the safety of everyone, including us. We don’t think there are a good number of readers who will prefer e-books over hard copies. And access to technology among the youths is low as compared to big cities. Globally people still prefer hard copies over e-books. There is always a difference in reading a hard copy and an e-book.

FPSJ: Do you keep Meiteilon books also? Does it have a large number of readers?

KM: We do keep, we have only the popular titles as of now. They have a good number of readers including younger generations, which is a good sign. We could not expand our titles to a large extent because many are either not published or stopped publishing new editions. Another issue is that since all the local books are self-published books it is a big time job for us to gather and collect them. But we surely will expand our collection to the maximum extent possible. We want our local vernaculars to flourish.

FPSJ: Do the price of books rise and fall nationally and internationally? Do you get affected by it?

KM: Yes, higher the prices, the lesser the buyers as we all know the economic state of Manipur.

FPSJ: What do your readers think of your bookstore? Do they have a long-term relation with you?

KM: We have our well-wishers; mainly they are students, scholars, teachers and journalists. Many have helped us in many instances. And we shall always remain grateful to them.

(The Readers Book Store, Manipur University campus, can be reached at +91-9774156993, thereaders2018@gmail.com and @thereadersbookstore for Instagram and Facebook)

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