It isn’t as though the delivery model came easily to The Bookshop.

Door to door

Before the pandemic, The Bookshop only made a handful of deliveries every month, largely to old-timers in urban cities in India. There was no codified payment module, and the store would accept cheques sent over mail for the few remote orders.

Covid-19 changed all that and necessitated online payments. Narain and Chaturvedi had to get their heads together and figure out a payments platform, shunning Big Tech players like Google Pay for homegrown payments platform Razorpay.

Then came the deliveries themselves. During May, India Post was not making deliveries out of Delhi, and there were winding queues outside the post office. The Bookshop staff finally found a courier partner who had a good network across the country and was willing to pick up orders from the store.

Next up, packaging. Narain says the bookstore has always been a big believer in recycling and knew they had stored a lot of used packaging material somewhere. “We had to call Singh, our trusted man Friday, who was in his village to ask him where he’d stored the packaging materials!” she says.

In that process, they also found several unused postcards. The personal became more intimate with handwritten notes that went out with every order. These were quite a hit, according to Narain.

The Bookshop has been an anomalous phenomenon of slow, sustained success during the pandemic.

The future of a shop around the corner

Kanishka Gupta, a Delhi-based literary agent, writer, and publishing commentator, believes that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on how people buy books.

“The pandemic is likely to cause a behavioral shift in readers because it has become almost stressful to go to a bookstore,” he says. “Anxiety and fear put a psychological, if not actual, restriction on the book browsing experience which will affect the discoverability of books especially those by debut writers.”

The fate of independent bookstores, according to Gupta, is also made worse by the fact that large publishers favour e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart while promoting books.

“Publishers incessantly promote links to their books on e-tailers so that they can quickly earn the somewhat deceptive and relative bestseller tag, and grab the attention of media as well as offline retail,” Gupta explains. “Neither have they been too vocal in their support for independent bookstores, nor do I know of too many publishers who encourage readers choose indie bookstores over Amazon or Flipkart, especially when things are going well for them.”

The other spanner in the works for small bookstores is the climbing rate of the US dollar against the Indian rupee. Those like The Bookshop that are known for their international titles have been forced to sell the books at a higher rate. And the temptation to pick up a cheaper book is always present.

For now, though, The Bookshop took its strengths seriously and stuck to it.

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