April 22, 2017

Indians are apparently most likely to spend time reading, at an average of 10.7 hours a week, according to the NOP World Culture Score Index. On World Book Day, The Good City focuses on a rarity – a profitable book store.

The world may cry over dwindling book stores and book sales. Not so in Karnataka, and not at the state's leading chain of book stores. It might not be the bookshop of your dreams, purveying toys and movies apart from books, but only those who adapt, survive.

Sapna Book House keeps the booksellers' flag flying over 13 stores in six cities; it has eight stores in Bengaluru and one each in Coimbatore, Hubballi, Mangaluru, Mysuru, and Kalaburagi.

While it sells 12.5 million titles, Sapna Book House is also a publisher; it has published around 6,000 Kannada books, including the works of leading writers, poets and playwrights such as Chandrashekhara KambaraKS Nissar Ahmed, 'Champa' - Prof. Chandrashekhar Patil and Dr. Mallepuram G Venkatesh.

Founded in 1967 by Suresh & Bhanumati Shah, the first Sapna store shared shelf space with betel leaves; Shah had earlier worked as a clerk in a bookstore, and when he and his wife set up the paan shop, they added books to their wares.

"Sapna book house stocks more than 12 million tittles"

The Shahs' dream store has come a long way from a 10X10 sq ft paan shop to occupying 5,00,000 sq ft of retail space. The shop which Shah started along with his wife 50 years ago, has grown into a chain, helmed by the family and with over a thousand employees and over 10 million customers worldwide.

The Shahs have always been quick to adapt, and were the earliest to extend the bookstore's portfolio to include 20 different product categories like magazines, music, movies, multimedia, stationery, toys, gifts and more.

And riding the digital bandwagon, came SapnaOnline.com, Bookadda.com, Acadzone.com and Koolskool.com under the umbrella of Sapna Infoway.

"We want to expand to the whole country and become the biggest retail store," says Nijesh Shah.

"Physical books are never going to become obsolete in India. Kindle and ebooks have failed drastically here. Previously, only adults bought books, but now students are also buying them. It's a refreshing change," says Nijesh Shah, Founder and CEO of Sapna Infoway.

Despite a strong presence, the company has set its sights on expanding its stores. Its latest innovation is the Sapna Express Stores - small shops stocked with customised products for a particular locality for which they are designed. Tapping into the big market of education, the first Express Store opened in 2016 at the SDM Medical Science College premises in Dharwad, Karnataka. This March it opened the second Express Store at the Ramaiah Medical College Hospital in Bengaluru. The two stores stock books aligned to the syllabi of colleges.

 In a fast-paced world, here's an Express lane to check out books.

Sapna plans to gradually expand and add community centric stores that cater to people in a specific residential area. These stores will stock more than books. "They're extremely economical and reap a good amount of return. In future, we want to expand our focus from books to retail. We want to sell whatever can be sold," says Shah.

As long as there are book readers, there will be book sellers, and that is a very good thing indeed!

Sapna Book House stocks the many titles published by The Good City parent company, Raintree Media. With eight stores in the city, Bengaluru-based Sapna Book House has branches to Coimbatore, Hubballi, Mangaluru, Mysuru, and Kalaburgi.

World Book Day (also known as International Day of the Book) is observed on April 23 byUNESCO. It is a celebration of books and their creators - authors, illustrators and publishers.