Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Buying a Book Online isn't the Right Experience

Vidit Bhargava
I went to a bookshop last Sunday, my first meaningful visit to one in three years. Traditional Bookstores have always worked for me, a lot more than the online ones. So, for the book I bought, I browsed a lot of others too.

So why do traditional Bookstores work for me? They get a lot of things right.  Serendipity for example. So, when I went to a bookshop last week, I not only got the Agatha Christie novel I was looking for, I also discovered a book on Pakistan’s Cricket History, A book by Basharat Peer and an architecture and design magazine. Fortunate Happenstances like these seldom happen on Amazon or Flipkart. 

Back in 2010, I was a regular at a bookshop in New Delhi’s Connaught Place. The bookseller gradually picked up my reading habits and would suggest me a book or two, while I was at his shop browsing for new things to read. At times, it would be something I really liked at others not very good. But, there’s something to be said about Booksellers here. They are some of the best book curators out their. They lend a Human Touch to the book buying process. Go to a Bookshop about where the ones selling you a book are just as enthusiastic about them as you are and you’ll realise the value of the little suggestions they give you.

The New Book Depot, now closed, was one of the best Bookstores in the city!

Also, you get to the feel the paper, turn the pages and select the book and the paper and bind quality. Now, this may seem trivial and in reality it is indeed a minor detail which many might ignore, but to me making sure that the book I’m buying feels good in hand, is essential in the buying process.

Online stores on the other hand, lack the human touch. Personally, I’ve felt this ever since I started buying things from Flipkart / Amazon. There’s little emotion in the selling process. It’s a mechanical warehouse culture that these books are subjected to. Wrapped in a cardboard box ready to be ‘shipped’, the Book is just another courier consignment and not a doorway to another universe full of amazing things.
Wrapped in a cardboard box ready to be ‘shipped’, the Book is just another courier consignment and not a doorway to another universe full of amazing things.
On Flipkart or Amazon, you get what you want, but seldom do you come across something new. Seldom does Flipkart suggest something that you really might want to read. Both the websites its seems, are always embroiled in a battle to provide the cheapest rates possible. None of them seem to care about the condition and quality of the book they are sending the readers, there’ve been many instances for me when an Amazon fulfilled purchase ended up in a book with dust and scratch marks on it or even a torn cover. Even though the online stores provide an image with every purchase, you still don’t know what you are going to see at your doorstep.

Having said that, the online stores deserve some credit for having a much larger collection of books than a conventional bookstore might have. There’ve been a lot of times when I was unable to find a book any where in the city but found an import edition on Amazon. Also, some of the online stores do care about the books, Flipkart was famous for sending some really beautiful bookmarks, back when they were young and few people knew them.

Buying a book online is sometimes a necessity.  For every other time, I’d prefer to walk to my Bookstore where the experience is much more human.