Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, writecoherently and think critically about printed material.
India’s literacy rate is at 74% in 2011, well below the world average of 84%. The illiterate population in India is the largest in the world. Although government schooling is free and compulsory from 6-14 years of age, facilities are inadequate and often totally lacking. Approximately 40% of students, mostly girls, drop out by secondary school. It is estimated that by the year 2020 over 50% of the illiterate population will live in India. Literacy is key to social economic growth of our country.
We know that Literacy is key to social economic growth but how do Independent bookstores help grow literacy levels? You may ask.
Key to literacy is accessibility to books and Independent Bookstore by its mere presence here and there ensures accessibility to books.
With the explosion of e-commerce business in India in recent years, the online bookstores are growing at a rapid speed. While the growth in e-commerce business sector is good for the country’s economy, in India, there are no strict e-commerce business regulations in place leading to unfair business practices by if not all but most online bookstores. With evident loopholes in the system, some of the online bookstores are cashing in on the gaps and making life difficult for independent bookstores by unfair or bad business practices.
Lets take a look at this example as to how an online bookstore is killing competition affecting the traditional independent bookstores with its fraudulent business practices.
Cost of the book: Rs.300
Margins offered by Publisher/Distributor: 40%
Discount offered by the Online store to the reader: 40%
Billing price: Rs.180 (A)
Cash on delivery (COD): Yes
Average cost incurred by the online store to offer COD service: Rs.30 (B)
Fulfillment/Packaging/Handling Charges incurred: Rs.5 (C)
Loss Incurred on the book sale = A-B+C = Rs.35
(With little bit of common sense, if we add in the cost incurred on infrastructure, manpower, IT infrastructure and other overheads. The loss incurred on every book sold will be even higher.)
You might wonder why they make a loss on every book sold.
Quite simply it is to get the traffic onto their site to introduce other catalogues to the visitor and to make the visitor build that online shopping habit with them. Number of hits and conversion to sales make the turnover look big on which the valuation of the company is measured with creative accounting practices.
End user or the reader definitely benefits because of the higher discounts that he/she gets. The end user or the reader or the consumer might get rich by such discounts but what about the social responsibility?
By buying on such platforms, are we (the literates, readers and book lovers) not helping indirectly plot the downfall of the bookstores? Its time for us to think.
Independent Bookstores cannot offer such discounts and end up losing money on each book sold because all they get to play around is the same 40% margins from the Publishers/Distributors from which they have to pay their rentals, staff salaries and look after other overheads.
With Amazon coming into India early next year, it adds to Independent Bookstores’ misery and further complicates the survival of bookstores.
Its high time we take a pause and think about those wonderful bookstores where we grew up, learnt to browse, spent hours glancing through the pages of those wonderful books, made friends and enjoyed the conversation with that bookseller about our favorite authors and their works.
If we continue our book shopping on such online bookstores, the bookstores will die and literacy will lose one of its important allies and may slow down in its growth or even dwindle affecting the social economic growth eventually.
The questions that we must ask ourselves are: Do we, as book lovers want the bookstores to vanish? Do we, as literates want the literacy to fall? Do we, as educated people want to affect the Social Economic Growth of our country? Do we, as good citizens want to associate and help such fraudulent online stores make merry?
September 8th is International Literacy Day. Spread this word around so we educate people and create awareness to save our bookstores and help literacy.
Come. Lets go out to buy a book and save a bookshop.
-Alaham Anil KumarSep 1st 2011