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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A conversation with a small bookstore owner

Walking through the crowded bylanes of Hogg Market, commonly known as New Market in Kolkata, I chanced upon The Modern Book Depot. Since 1949, it has served to satiate the appetites of voracious booklovers with its fantastic collection of children's books, fiction, non-fiction and reference books in English and Bengali. Browsing through the collection, my mother asked me if I had read Shashi Tharoor's Pax Indica. I told her that I would download it on Kindle. "Do not talk about Kindle here." I turned around to see Prem Prakash, the store's owner. Ït is not the same. You can download 500 books on Kindle but you may not read any. There is something about turning the pages of a book that makes you want to go back to it." I agreed, adding that I would not have bought a Kindle if I had space in my house for more books. "But you do make space for more clothes and shoes, right?" I smiled. "Reading a book is private business. You know what Amazon does, every time you go through a book or highlight a page, they make a note of who is reading and highlighting it. Your information goes to them," he went on. My mother told him she prefers paper to tablet. "See, you like reading and so you have passed it on to your children. We all will die one day but we need to pass this legacy to the next generations." Small bookstores such as his have had trouble sustaining themselves because of the increasing cost of logistics of printing, distribution and selling of books. I asked him if Flipkart had affected his business. "They are making a loss but they always find someone to pump in the money. Even Amazon. $1 share sells for $250. They are going to decide the next bestseller. And they will make it a bestseller. And you will also believe that it is a bestseller and buy the book. In a few years, we will all close down and there will be only Amazon." 

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