Cross the Word out

(I normally disdain ‘open letters’ on the ‘net, but this one just could not be stopped)

There was once a place in Bombay that offered books.

Oh, it didn’t do something as common as just sell them. No, this place invited you to pore over them, pick them up and sit in the various niches, not complaining one bit even if you read whole books without buying them.  It put up tables and chairs so you could sit and didn’t mind if you completed your projects using the wonderful reference tomes it stocked.  It had a whole dedicated kids area, which was wonderful enough to be heavily frequented by even non-parenting adults. It sourced hard-to-find titles, it offered offbeat covers, it even stocked graphic novels.  It had staff who would be happy to, and could, hold hour-long conversations about little-known science-fiction authors. It pushed you to read new books by constantly recommending titles. It was lovely. It was biblioffic. It was Crossword.

And then it opened a second outlet.
And another.
And another.
And another.
And it grew so popular, somebody decided to buy it.
And now it’s turned into just another retail chain.

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There was a time I used to spend several evenings a week at the shop. Even after I got a full-time job, its new version(s) merited a weekly visit. But then, having moved abroad, for several years it became the occasion of a quick walk-in-walk-round-walk-out visit, busy as our schedules used to be in trying to meet as many friends and family as possible on the brief visits back home.  And although we’ve been back a while, I hadn’t been allowed into their stores for a proper browse (banned by family after exceeding the volumes (volumes…geddit?) of living space available) until very recently.

…oh, Crossword. Su total chutiyagiri chhe.

1. Gabriel Garcia Marquez does not belong under Indian fiction.  Yes, some of his books have characters that are defined as ‘Indian’, but THEY’RE THE ONES FROM LATIN AMERICA.

2. Your (smaller-store) magazine section doesn’t stock The Caravan.  Even the newspaper-stall-against-the-wall outside the Bhandup (E) station does. How sucky are you.

3. When I want to experience the joy of finding a sought-after book in stacks of other books, I’ll go to the secondhand roadside markets.  Because they’re a bargain. And it’s an adventure.  If you want me to pay full price for your books, stop making me hunt for a copy by placing them behind other books. On. every. damn. shelf.

4. And you know why I had to hunt for the books? Because your staff is so clueless. Seriously, train them. Or maybe pay them more so you find people who know something about books.  Because when your staff asks your customers to help them in looking amongst those hidden books, it’s obvious they – a) have never heard of them; b) don’t know where the book currently is.

5.  And you know why they can’t locate the book? Because the jamooras don’t understand your shelving system (such as it is). Alexander McCall Smith does NOT come after Ed McBain.  Seriously, the concept of middle names is not that difficult.

6. You’re a large chain. Owned by another bloody large chain. Owned by a conglomerate.  For fuck’s sake, invest in some handheld price scanners, so that every time I want to check the price of an imported book, I don’t have to queue at the billing counter for 15 minutes. And while you’re at it, get one of the jamooras to check that the books actually HAVE A DAMN PRICE TAG ON!

7. Don’t put up posters during your sale days which have asterisks AND NO FOOTNOTE. You sell books, muppets, books! You know, the things that are edited and re-edited and proofread and doubleproofed and which aim to educate and literify people? And you can’t put up a 15 word poster talking about those books without getting it right?  Wait. I know. The marketing guys handle it, isn’t it? Well you might as well give it to Babloo the Baboon and His Band of Blotchy Banana-Soaked Bandanas, because they’d do a better job. Or, y’know, HIRE SOMEBODY WHO CAN READ.

8. This is a Terry Pratchett book. See? It says Terry Pratchett. It’s stocked in the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section. Which is where I am. Standing in the SF&F section. The adults SF&F section. Ok? Ok. You know what’s not ok? Some idiot dressed in a badly-fitting suit meant to represent some kids-based cartoon character spotting me holding a Pratchett book – with their colourful covers and the word ‘magic’ on them – and deciding I must obviously be interested in buying products related to that cartoon and trying to jolly me along.  What. the. fuck!  Seriously, hire Babloo the Baboon already or, khodai na kasam, your marketing team will soon learn why Fantasy is also called Swords and Sorcery.

9. Stop carrying the old favourites in your genre sections. SF&F doesn’t mean just Tolkien, Rowling, Jordan, and Pratchett. Crime doesn’t just mean Doyle, Ludlum, Christie, and Grafton. Travel does not just mean Palin, Dalrymple, and Lonely Planet.  There’s more out there. People like Robert Crais and Colin Thubron and China Mieville and Steven Eriksson and … oh, look it up yourself.  And don’t tell me to go to your website.  You’re a bookstore, store a decent selection of books in your stores.

10.  Really – stop stocking books behind books!

Congrats Crossword, you just lost a customer for good. Such utter fail.

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