Book retail in India is in a poor shape. We do not have enough book shops for a country of one billion people. With retail space getting too expensive in cities, grocery and other high value retail occupy more space. Books are not essential commodities yet for the Indians, and hence per sq. ft. yield of books will always be low. Books are not FMCG.
There have been a few entrepreneurs who have focused on book retailing. Crossword emerged from India Book House, and through entrepreneurs who used to work for Landmark. Now the chain is owned by Shoppers' Stop and it is not clear what their growth model is. Corner Bookstore, once partly owned by DC Books of Kerala, now seems to be languishing.
Hemu Ramaiah built up Landmark as a single location bookstore in Chennai. The first shop was in Nungambakkam High Road, Apex Plaza, over a 5,500 sq.ft. space. It quickly became the destination for book lovers in Chennai. Access to capital must have been very difficult in the 1990s. It was only in 2001, a second shop was opened in Chennai Spencer Plaza. But by then, Landmark was more than books. All kinds of other accessories came in. In particular, the Spencer Plaza shop even had furnitures!
Forays into other towns and cities gave them mixed results. Kolkata was a joint venture with Emami group. Bangalore Landmark did well. A shop opened in Coimbatore didn't and was closed down.
Landmark created a joint venture with East West, a book distributor and a smalltime publisher based in Chennai, called Westland books - both for book distribution and for reprint publishing.
In 2005, Tata's Trent acquired 76% stake in Landmark, valuing the company at around Rs. 138 crores. Landmark used the money effectively to grow across the country with large book+other retails shops. Landmark also acquired majority stake in East West, and launched full-fledged publishing operation (East West, Westland and Tranquebar).
Yesterday, Hemu Ramaiah announced that she has sold her residual equity stake in Landmark to Trent.
Hemu says she has started a company that will provide retail consultancy and solution.
There is considerable space in the book retail still unexploited in India. Pantaloon has its Depot shops in around 30 places. Oxford bookstore is slowly expanding. Odyssey chain is sadly not growing as fast as I expected. As mentioned earlier in this post, Crossword and Corner aren't growing as much. Reliance Timeout is expected to open shops all over.
All of the above cater to English books in key metros and large cities. The real space is in regional languages and in smaller towns. Low cost retailing is possible, over a 200-500 sq. ft. chain shops, with excellent information systems, point-of-sale systems, logistics support, aggressive marketing, brand building etc. However, this calls for reasonable Indian investments.
Where are the entrepreneurs?