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Bookstores do well by listening to what readers want

Physical bookstores have taken a gargantuan hit - but some find ways to thrive, still.

The outlook was bleak for physical bookstore chains around the world until one turned its fortunes around, ironically by turning to a mom-and-pop model of retailing. Last December, UK’s biggest chain Waterstones, which was close to declaring bankruptcy in 2011, announced its first annual profit since 2008. Waterstones chief James Daunt cut expenditure since 2013 by two thirds to £10 million (S$21 million). And, instead of promoting the same books across all its 280 stores, staff were trusted to bring in titles that would appeal to local customers. The key is customisation, which independent bookstores know a lot about. At Iwata Shoten in Sunagawa City, Hokkaido, owner Toru Iwata personally recommends books to his customers based on their job description and reading profile. This service costs 10,000 yen (S$122) per visit, but Iwata has no shortage of customers in Japan. In Singapore, bookstores like BooksActually and Littered with Books are also doing well by listening to what readers want and providing a well-curated selection. Kenny Leck, co-founder of BooksActually, says: “We have registered a 5 to 10 per cent increase in sales every year, since we started the business.” The store opened in 2005. “The real sales numbers for e-books have, in fact, been more demoralising than news of bookstores closing,” says Leck.