“Bookshops add to the local community”

says Mayura Misra of Storyteller Bookstore in Kolkata in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

3,542

One of the famous independent bookstores in Kolkata is Storyteller Bookstore, which specialises in children books. “Our store is on the EM Bypass (30 mins away from the Kolkata airport). Spread over 1500 sq feet, it houses over 40,000 titles. We specialize in children’s books, and also keep the latest and best in fiction and non fiction,” tells Mayura Misra of Storyteller Bookstore in Kolkata.

The beginning…

“I started working for a gentleman in the early 90s right out of college, selling magazine subscriptions across Bengal. The gentleman eventually moved to Delhi, selling his business to me. Branching out of magazine subscriptions, I started selling books. Today I specialize in Children’s books. Before this store that I now own myself, I have had rental stores all across the city! Tough times but they were fun,” she adds.

Challenges faced…

“It’s the usual question of corporates owned vs. smaller independent bookshops. We always have to fight for better discounts, books, and of course authors who are only ushered to chain stores instead of our stores,” tells Mayura. “The good thing is that I have managed to somehow stay on in an industry that is largely male-centric.”

Trends in books…

“Books have become more attractive and better produced. The illustrations are fantastic and books have become more accessible,” she tells. “Children’s books are very popular right now. The general fiction/non-fiction bestsellers are also selling, but the sale of children’s story books/ activity titles/ toddler books are at an all-time high.” Storyteller Bookshop offers not just books in English, but also Bengali and Hindi story books for children.

Competition from online sales…

“The competition from online sale is very tough. We can’t compete with them. Fortunately, we have our own loyal customer base/clientele that keeps us going,” she says.

“Even though ebooks sales are negligible, online sales, have completely destroyed brick and mortar stores. In France, there is a law that prohibits online stores from selling books beyond a certain discount (5% + delivery charges). It is time to enact this in our country as well to prevent the unfair deep discounting and fair weathered trade discounts,” she explains.

Being different…

“We have to think of innovative ways to attract customers to our shop. We have author sessions (now of course they are all online), we run book clubs, and host various events every weekend. Besides, our books are specially picked and curated. We listen carefully to our children and especially their parents who tell us about what their child would like to read,” tells Mayura.

On the current Covid-19 crisis…

“We have been very fortunate to continue home deliveries during the entire duration of the pandemic. We have asked our clients to take appointments, and shown them books on video call. Once they choose, we sanitize, pack, and deliver to their doorstep,” tells Mayura.

On changing reading habits…

“Reading habits are definitely changing, however as a bookseller I can tell you that children of today are reading much more than children in yesteryears. They actively seek books which sometimes even we haven’t heard of until they tell us about it,” she tells.

On asking how to inculcate reading habits in children, Mayura replies, “Give them more access to books and authors. Let them read what they like to read, not what we think they should be reading.”

On IBAI…

The Independent Bookshops Association of India (IBAI) is founded by the proprietors of six of India’s independently owned bookshops: Diviya Kapur (Literati, Goa), Raman Shresta (Rachna Books, Gangtok), Leonard and Queenie Fernandes (The Dogears Bookshop, Goa), Neha Tiwari and Vishal Pipraiya (Pagdandi Bookstore Cafe, Pune), Aman and Mayura Misra (Storyteller Bookstore, Kolkata), and Ahalya and Meethil Momaya (Trilogy, Mumbai).

“Bookshops are usually considered to be at the bottom of the food chain of the book industry, and need a voice,” tells Mayura. “Early in the year, when a few of us got together to discuss the need for our country’s independent bookshops to come together and set up a united front, we were eager to get started immediately. We set up conference calls, emailed drafts of objectives and rules, and designed logos, but our plans to meet up and formalise the structure of the organisation has gotten delayed, understandably, by the covid-19 pandemic. As it turns out, the pandemic has shown us exactly why we need to come together and pool in our knowledge and our voices, and support each other. During the lockdown, with our beloved bookshops closed, we have had more time to understand the range of concerns that affect independent bookshops, what our common needs are and how we can help each other. We have been assessing our readiness to deal with the new normal, sharing book recommendations with each other, and our best practices, so when we restart, it is with renewed vigour and most importantly, with friends. We have already started helping each other out by fulfilling orders for each other. We are inviting our country’s independently owned bookshops to join us so we can combine our strengths and our love for what we do best, find ever-loving homes for the best books. Over the next few days, we hope that this call is responded to by our fellow booksellers and we hope that readers join us by supporting our venture and seek us out, via our membership directory, so that we can serve more readers.”

Future of bookshops…

“Bookshops are alive and kicking. We aren’t closing down anytime soon, I can assure you that! We are simply not just a place to come and buy books. A bookshop contributes to the community in ways that online stores can’t even fathom,” she adds. “It adds to your local community, it is a meeting place for people who enjoy, love, and discuss their favourite writers, a place for readers to meet and interact with their favourite writers, and of course discuss. Who knows, one of the kids scrambling around my shop today could end up as a bestselling writer years from now!”

Mayura Misra is the proprietor of Storyteller Bookstore in Kolkata. She has been in the business of selling books for over 20 years now. Mayura is a children’s books specialist, who acts as a consultant to parents, teachers, children, and educational institutions across the city of Kolkata. Storyteller Bookstore is her brainchild – based on the EM Bypass, the store regularly hosts authors, and hosts literature festivals. Mayura also holds book fairs in prominent schools across the city.

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.