“People are still reading books; the habit has only increased after the pandemic’

“Hello, I’m looking for A Good Girl’s Killing Guidesaid a young girl to a bookstore employee.

From the towering stacks that line the interior of Bahrisons Booksellersthe attendant pulls out the book, like a magician pulls a dove out of his hat.

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The door opens for the third time in 10 minutes and two more people enter. A haven for bookworms, Bahrisons is a quiet oasis in the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Even in the sweltering heat, this bookstore – located in Khan Market – does a good business.

Bahrison Booksellers (Photo by Sumedha Maheshwari)

So it’s understandable when the owner, Anuj Bahrison, looks surprised when I ask him if he thinks reading has become a dying habit. “Reading has been good for the past 10 years. Thanks to millennials, reading habits have increased by about 30-35%,” he says, adding that the pandemic has made things better.

“During lockdown people turned to e-books, but when the bookstores reopened, attendance increased,” he adds, continuing, “After all, how many movies can you watch after a while?

Abhinav Bahmi, the owner of the famous bookstore Faqir Chand & Sons, agrees: “I know people who started reading more during the pandemic. I mean, how much Netflix can you watch? »

Interestingly, a 2021 Nielsen Book India report found that two-thirds of readers surveyed read more during lockdowns. The study, Impact of COVID-19[feminine] on the Indian book consumer, found that people were reading 16 hours a week compared to nine before the pandemic. And people are reading after closings more than ever, too.

“There was a 30% increase after the pandemic”, reveals Bahmi

Faqir Chand & Sons Bookstore (Photo by Sumedha Maheshwari)

In fact, there was such demand that Delhi’s Midland Book Shop had to open just after the third wave of Covid ended because “people were hungry for books”, according to owner Mirza Afsar Baig. “In my years of experience, I never thought books or reading had diminished. Readers have always been reading.”

The bookstore has also adapted to the digital landscape. “We have an Instagram account where we put recommendations. We get orders from that too,” he says.

Instagram has indeed played an important role in the growing popularity of books. ‘Bookstagram’ is a niche on instagram with accounts run by book lovers. Their posts range from reviews and opinions to sometimes simply aesthetic book images.

Hari Krishnan Prasath, whose handle is @theobviousmystery, says: “I don’t think the reading has become unpopular. In fact, thanks to the pandemic, it has become more popular. I can tell you this because before the pandemic, the number of people who contacted me asking for recommendations was significantly lower than after the pandemic.

He receives daily messages from many of his 11.5,000 followers asking recommendations or suggestions on how to become a ‘bookstagrammer’ like him. “Many people have told me that accounts like mine have helped them start their own reading journey again.”

He is not the only one. Pallavi Banerjee, who runs an account called @thebibliophilemomy, found his account “grew a lot” during the pandemic. “I had a lot of friends doing buddy readings and challenging themselves to read more and more books. So definitely the pandemic has caused a lot of people to connect through books,” she says .

But do people read physical books or e-books?

Aayushi Jain, who runs the @_penandpapers account, feels the landscape has changed. “I think reading patterns are definitely changing due to the greater availability of digital media and also due to the decreasing amount of time people can devote to reading.”

But she still prefers the physical booksso does Pallavi, who says, “Readers like me will always crave the smell of the books and will continue to buy the physical copy to own and collect.”

Bahmi disagrees with the idea that e-books are more popular. “About five years ago, the fashion for online books was at its peak. But now people are back to basics,” he says.

The pandemic should have made e-books more popular. But, people still prefer printed copies. According to data from Statista’s Advertising and Media Outlook survey, e-book sales are much lower than print. Only 5.6% of readers switched to e-books in 2020, compared to 24.5% of print readers.

“There is no thrill in electronic books. A book is a friend. The screen is very impersonal. That’s why even if you like a book on your Kindle, you still want to own a physical copy. The satisfaction of reading only comes from a book,” says Bahrison.

Bookstores like Bahrisons, Faqir Chand and Midland have cultivated their customers over the decades. These people will never go anywhere else.

“We have clients who come from generations – three to four generations of a family have visited us. They are emotionally attached to us. So it’s more of a family relationship,” says Bahmi.

Booksellers reached readers in a different way. Pallavi has amassed 87.5,000 subscribers and Aayushi has almost 20,000 subscribers.

“I received many messages and people thanked me for my recommendations. Whether it’s my husband’s colleagues, my neighbors or my friends,” says Pallavi. These staff relationships with other readers are part of the reason she started her account in the first place. “Throughout my life, I have rarely found anyone as passionate about reading as I am. But my account changed that.

But whether on Instagram or in bookstores, everyone agrees that there is no age limit for readers. “People of all ages come here,” says Baig.

The writer is an intern at Indian Express.

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Colin L. Johnson