Is there a renaissance of bookstores in Sofia?

Photo: BTA

In recent years, new bookstores have virtually mushroomed in the city of Sofia. They have moved on to claim not only street corners and main streets but even crossings. Others have set foot in shopping malls and in residential districts. However, the city center remains the top place for bookstores, with Graf Ignatiev St. and its crossings being the location of a dozen of them, as well as of the biggest open-air book market in Bulgaria, in Slaveykov Sq. The renaissance of bookstores is a piece of good news given that in 1990s and onwards quite a few of them were hastily closed down and replaced with cafes and deluxe stores. However, it is important to find out how numerous bookstores have been able to survive in such a close competition, all the more so that Bulgarians are definitely not buying more books than before.

“Now an illusion is being created that book publishing is booming right now and the wrong impression comes from the unnecessarily large quantity of bookstores in central Sofia”, Assen Mitov who runs a small bookstore in the city center and has been in the trade since 1989. “Today we’ve got a bookstore at every two meters, just like pharmacies and bank offices 20 years ago. There is nothing wrong in this, because the market will regulate the situation in a natural way. The unhealthy thing in all this however is that books by serious writers are published in circulations such as 1000 copies, and then they fail to get sold for years. This I’d call a negative trend.”

Similar to the character of Meg Ryan in the movie You’ve Got Mail, the owners of small bookstores stake on a special attitude to customers as a weapon in the competition with big bookstore chains. “I cannot afford renting space in a shopping mall or in the main street, and an area of 400 sq. m is just a dream”, Assen Mitov explains and adds:

“Loyal customers represent the strongest chance of survival for a small bookstore. The best way for it to be successful is to keep up a good percentage of reading people whom it has won over and kept, and this is a challenge. When the customer is satisfied he will come back to you one day.”

More often, publishing houses open their own bookstores thus bypassing wholesalers. Fyut, a publishing house for children’s books, has got three bookstores in Sofia. To attract new readers, they organize in one of them Saturday matinee events. More, from Pavlina Genova working in one of the Fyut stores:

“Our priority is to serve customers with competence and politeness. We also provide extensive choice of books, especially for children. Even during a crisis, books for children are bought. Sales of books for adults have declined a bit. This is most probably due to electronic books that are cheaper. Well, printed books’ prices have almost doubled since VAT was levied on them.”

Online book trade has gained momentum in the recent years to become a key player on the book market and has grown into a challenge for small bookstores. “Books have very good online sales in Bulgaria”, says Petar Vantchev, manager of Bulgaria’s biggest online store and Chairman of the Association of E-Commerce. “Hundreds and thousands of books are sold online every day.”

Petar Vantchev argues that only big bookstore chains fare better than that. He attests growing interest in online book sales to a rising trust in e-commerce and to the great diversity of titles on sale. “In practice, we can offer absolutely everything released on the market”, Petar Vantchev says and adds:

“For customers it is very convenient to pick a book online, instead of spending two hours to visit a bookstore. There are three groups of books most often ordered online: in the first place, self-help books, but also business literature, textbooks, manuals and dictionaries. Now we have seen a boom in the sales of accounting books. Of course, fiction bestsellers are always selling like hot cakes.”

Gergana Nedeva is someone for whom the book is a delight for the soul. So, where does she buy books from?

“I buy more often in bookstores, because I enjoy the atmosphere. Besides, one can scan the pages of the book, sitting comfortably in an armchair. In the bookstore, you meet other people that love books. This experience, a ritual of a kind, is something I love. I also shop online but I do that jointly with friends to minimize delivery charges. Online trade is good when one is looking for books that are not available in classical bookstores”, concludes Gergana Nedeva.  

English version:  Daniela Konstantinova

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