A few years back, when my daughter was growing up, one of my favourite weekend pastime was to go with her to Crossword bookstore. Dropping in at Crossword lifestyle bookstore on the way to the super market was integrated into our weekend schedule. We both would go to the respective sections of our choice, browse through some books, read a few chapters and pick up a few that we wanted to purchase, have some snacks and then leave.
The well-lit stores with books neatly stacked on smooth wooden racks, soft light instrumental music playing in low volume in the background provided the perfect ambience for getting lost in a book. The demarcation of different categories made it easier to spot the books in a particular category. Most of all, I loved the Crossword Recommend Section.
Compensating for the lack of libraries, Crossword provided us with an environment to enjoy reading books and making a purchase as well. In fact, the brand brought in the concept of lifestyle bookstore in India.
Serial entrepreneurs R Sriram and K Anita started the chain of stores in Mumbai in 1992, with the objective of encouraging readers to drop by, browse and buy books.
The name Crossword was chosen to reflect fun and learning akin to solving the Crossword puzzles. It was meant to be a space where people come to seek information, knowledge, or for reading pleasure. The spacious, well laid out stores, with bright cheerful interiors that encouraged people to stay and browse made looking for books and purchasing them a much more pleasurable experience than before. Crossword grew up to be one of India’s biggest book retailer with a pan India presence.
In 1999, Crossword instituted the Crossword Book Award to encourage and recommend Indian writers, who put in good content.
In 2000s, Srirams arranged for the buyout of Crossword by Shoppers Stop, with ICICI Ventures picking up 49% stake. In 2005, Shoppers Stop bought out the stake of ICICI Ventures and completed the Crossword acquisition.
Unfortunately the Crossword bookstore near my house has closed down and given way to a Crossword kiosk nearby. At other Crossword bookstores, the increasing number merchandize, clothes, toys, DVDs and blue-ray discs of movies and music, stationery and gift items can clearly be noticed. The ambience of the bookshop has changed over a period of time. No longer is it the place where one could sit for hours and enjoy reading a book, cossetted in a corner seat or over a cup of coffee.
But then can one really blame the bookstores?
The online bookstores have emerged as strong alternatives for the offline bookstore. With the increase in online purchases, the number of customers visiting the offline bookstores has gone down. Not only that; the emergence of digital books have impacted the reading habits too. I find myself having turned into a pathetically slow reader, with decreasing attention span when it comes to reading a paper book.
Though they are not selling through online market places like Flipkart and Amazon as of now, realizing the competition from alternate channels, Crossword has come up with its own site Crossword.in.
As much as I wish that physical bookstores like Crossword stay on, so that children can experience the reading habit, but I wonder how viable is a physical bookstore that is in the business of inculcating reading habit, in an age where e-tailing is spreading fast, considering the high cost of operations including electricity, rentals and manpower that inversely affect profitability.
With over 95 stores in India, and planning to expand further, Crossword believes it is here to stay. The brand aims to be a point of cultural and social interaction where authors and poets hold court, where children are regaled, where people gravitate to be informed, to be entertained, even enlightened.
Can Crossword stand out in the wake of competition from online bookstores? What do you think?
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