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In Conversation

Sucharita Sengupta

One of Delhi’s most eclectic bookstores, Fact & Fiction, shut shop in August this year. In a freewheeling conversation with bookstore owner Ajit Vikram Singh, Sucharita Sengupta uncovers the nitty-gritty of the business, and the loss to soul and society that occurs each time a bookstore closes. Sucharita Sengupta: Fact & Fiction will soon be closing down. The pavement book-seller, it appears, will stop selling books soon too. There seems to be some sort of a pattern. Ajit Vikram Singh: If you recall, even till a few years ago, this market was covered with pavement book sellers. Customers were largely coming to buy pirated books, cheap bestselling books. So the man who ran one of the pavement book stalls nearly ended up in jail. I used to find some real gems at these stalls—travel books and classics that were out of print. One morning I saw that he had removed all his books and replaced them with cheap bags. He said he made more money selling bags made in China than he did on books. He was finding it too expensive to maintain even a pavement stall because books didn’t sell. I saw it as a sign of times to come. SS: Your bookshop is located close to JNU. Did being located close to a university not help in book sales? AVS: I find this relation between the number of educated people in this area and the number of actual book buyers very confusing. We have new colleges and universities coming up, but that does not automatically seem to translate into a larger number of book buyers. SS: As per recent statistics, readership is actually going up. AVS: A good starting point is to ask what types of books are being purchased or read. I am not against anybody buying any types of books. It really does not matter if they are reading Chetan Bhagat or Amish Tripathi or Ravinder Singh. What is important is that readers move on after using any genre as a stepping stone. That’s clearly not happening. If Amish Tripathi is selling 7 lakh copies, then other books should sell one-third of that, or even one-tenth. But that is not happening. If people are reading one type of book, then at least a small set should be reading another type of book. It does not matter whether it is the kind of book that I ...

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