"We are in this business to inculcate reading habit"

The market of Indian books is passionately growing - retailing as well as the readers’ base, which came to light at the Raymond Crossword Book Award 2015 held in April. Thus, know more about the Crossword’s ever-growing books’ retailing business via correspondent Sunil Pol who conversed with the company’s CEO, Kinjal Shah, at the event.

Q Are you thinking of going online with more number of publishers going online?

We have an online site that’s Crossword.in and which is always going to be an alternative channel where readers can browse for books and buy from brick-and-mortar stores or consumers can buy online through desktop or through mobile. Presently, we are not planning of selling through online market places like Flipkart and Amazon. May be in future we can take a call accordingly.

Q What is your view on the growing eCommerce market?

Our fundamental theory is very different than any eCommerce site. The eCommerce sites in this business are to sell books, but we are in this business to inculcate reading habit, so we want to create experience centres and stores, where people can come and spend time.

When you go to an eCommerce site you should know of the book to buy but our brick-and-mortar stores are designed in a way that prompt consumers to come and browse books before buying as the browsability propel consumers to buy.   

Q According to you, what will be the future of offline and online book stores?

I think, both the format of stores will survive for longer and we have to keep a balance. Both these formats have merits and demerits, online stores are as challenging as brick-and-mortar stores. Hence, very important factor will be the long sustainability. Presently, the online sellers are losing money on the books they sell, and I feel in the future, sustainability will be there. About offline stores, I feel that these stores are always going to survive.

Q What are your plans of stores expansion? And what would be the total investment?

Every year we are planning to add 7 to 8 stores in our stores count. Currently, we have 95 stores in 33 cities and over the next two years, we are planning to go to 40 cities. In the current fiscal, we will be opening 12 more stores in tier II and III cities. Of these, 12 stores, 6 stores will be the company owned and the rest will be the franchisees.

In our own stores, we are investing around Rs 3000 for per sq ft that is around Rs 6 cr for each of the 20,000-30,000 sq ft Crossword store.

Henceforth, we are eyeing the north and north-eastern states and are about to open a store in Bhuvaneshwar while planning a Patna store soon.

Q What are your expectations about ROI?

I am expecting 25% to 30% of ROC in three years.

Q Anymore plans of bringing international titles?

We have everything that gets released in the international market. On the same day of release, we get international titles. What we are trying to do now is we are trying to build a platform which called as ‘Write Place’ to build writing furthermore. We want to ensure that everyone writes and probably the new writers are not facing difficulties in finding a publisher. The new writer should be able to publish immediately and we will help him provide a platform.

Q Please give us a break-up of ratio of Indian and international authors and the ratio of different categories of books?

In fiction, roughly 40 per cent will be Indian and the rest 60 per cent will be international authors. And in other categories, Indians will be slightly lower. Fiction contributes 22 per cent of our business, children’s books contributes 30 per cent and rest is non-fiction.  

In non-fiction, in certain categories like health, growth is significantly better, the self-help has been growing at a much faster rate, so its category by category growth.

Q What are your plans regarding promoting reading habits?

We are going to put more efforts on school activities to encourage reading among kids. We are going to push our ‘Write Place’ programme which I feel is a big initiative. Also, we are going to launch our own private label for stationery and gifting, which will be called ‘Yellow’. The stores of Yellow will be launched across India in the coming two months.  

While pursing with our passion-driven Crossword’s business, we want to inculcate reading habit. India still has a huge scope in building readership as a culture and we want to play an active and consistent role in developing it.

Q What challenges are faced by Crossword in retailing of books?

There are challenges in terms of building book stores, the challenge of building book stores of right size for consumers in certainty. Bookstores are really expensive to build. The cost of operations including electricity, rentals and manpower is really high which inversely affects profitability.

In the last four months, we have completely renovated our stores and created a new look for offering pleasure experience to the consumers, so experience quotient has been really good.  

Q How online pirated market is affecting the business?

Piracy does affect our business of book retailing. It is a big challenge for the industry. And I am sure that the publishers and the government both are working on controlling piracy to a large extent.

Q What inspired you to come up with a platform like Crossword Book Award for writers?

Crossword Book Award was instituted in 1999. Basically at that time, the Indian writers were not duly recommended and we always thought that Indian books has the market of 1.2 billion consumers and writers can really put in good content. We are clearly focused on wanting to push Indian writing and award is the best mechanism.  

Q What is your current CAGR? And what is the target revenue for fiscal 2015-16?

Every year we are growing by 15 per cent and in this fiscal, we are targeting Rs 200 cr of revenue from all the stores, including the company owned and franchisees.

Q By what percent the Indian readers’ market is growing?

Overall, the readers’ market is growing by 10 to 15 per cent.

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