Traditional book-retailing model still remains unshakeable

Ajay Mago, Publisher & Sanjay Mago, Director-Sales & Marketing, Om Books International, let in the secret about book retailing to Retailer magazine.
Book Retailing Comes of Age
Om Books International, one of the largest English language trade publishers in the subcontinent, has been a leading force in the Indian book market for several years. Ajay Mago, Publisher & Sanjay Mago, Director-Sales & Marketing, Om Books International, let in the secret about book retailing to Retailer magazine.
 
How do you see the present day reading preferences in India? What kind of books are more in demand in your store?
The perennial bestsellers are still crime thrillers, murder mysteries, romances, biographies, books for children, including the evergreen fairytales. Then there is a huge resurgence of interest in the Indian market in our epics retold. Add to that a keen interest in world cuisine, fashion, Bollywood, health, self-help and fitness related books. Diet books are a runaway seller, especially when endorsed by a celebrity. With our lifestyles getting more hectic, light frothy reads also work very well. Besides these, chick lit and other forms of popular commercial fiction sell very well. And I take great pride in pointing out that Indian authors are as popular with readers as international authors. Om Books International, our publishing division has some of the finest-selling authors in the country in various categories: Raghu Rai, Anupama Chopra, Mushtaq Shiekh, Darius Cooper, Anna M.M. Vetticad, Kris Gethin, Arfeen Khan, Vikas Khanna, Sushmita Bose, Srishti Khanna, to name just a few.
 
Do you think the book-fairs help in book-retailing business in India?
Book fairs are a boon for booksellers as well as publishers. We are lucky to enjoy a twin status because we have our retail chain of stores called Om Book Shop and our publishing division, Om Books International. My elder brother, Sanjay Mago and I look after both these divisions.
 
In the Delhi book fairs, the atmosphere is most vibrant and we receive over 2,500 customers who drop by at our stall in search of great bargains on books not only published by us but by so many other publishing houses in the domestic and international market.
 
Book fairs are also a great platform for trade negotiations, especially for schools and other educational institutions. Many people get the chance to meet their favorite authors, hear them speak, get their copies signed, pose for a picture, and carry home the memory of a lifetime.
 
A 10-day book fair typically provides such a concentration of readers that the sales peak during these times. Book lovers also manage to pick up books which may have gone out of circulation, but magically emerge from the warehouse during such fairs.  
 
How do you find the present day e-reading trend? How is it complementing or hindering your business growth in India?
In India, we enjoy a special relationship with the printed word, especially the word printed on paper. We are one of the only countries in the world where books constitute a part of worship during a festival. Even though many religious texts are available in e-form, people still prefer the canons in paper form on festive or religious occasions, or during everyday worship. It is interesting to note that the worldwide sales of e-books is not as vibrant today as it was 3-4 years ago. It seems to have reached the plateau.
 
What are the popular titles and who are the popular authors in your store?
 
All the titles by these authors are in demand: Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, Vikas Khanna, Dan Brown, Christopher C Doyle, Kris Gethin, Preeti Shenoy, Mushtaq Shiekh, Raghu Rai, Srishti Khanna, Ravinder Singh, Arfeen Khan… And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
 
What is the average billing size in any of your store?
Rs 500-700.
 
Among the stores you have, which one is the best performing one and for this, how do you feel location of the store is helping?
 
All our stores are strategically located and all, without exception, have excellent footfalls. Across the NCR, there are six Om Book Shops and one in Vasant Vihar Market. Even in Bengaluru and Mumbai, Om Book Shops are in malls. Malls today have undeniably redirected footfalls from the traditional high streets for a variety of reasons that are self explanatory.
 
What’s your take on the upcoming trend in book retailing business? 
Online retailing is an alternate source of revenue in book-retailing trade. It could be a very positive parallel vending platform if its sales strategies are not detrimental to the philosophy of ‘our favourite corner bookstore’. When the competition turns unhealthy between different sales platforms, the biggest casualty is the book itself because it loses a traditional and time-tested platform of reaching the reader.
The ideal situation that all book retailers in India look forward to is parity in the discount structure offered on multiple platforms. That would provide level playing field for all, and has already happened, for example, in France.
 
How many bookstores you run presently and what’s your plan for the next five years?
There are nine Om Book Shops across India. And over the next two years, we plan to open 10 more outlets across the country. That clearly indicates that my personal faith in the traditional book-retailing model still remains unshakeable. 
Ajay Mago
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