A TOTAL of 95 bookstores have closed since 2018 and 32 outlets were closed in 2020, according to data collected by the Malaysian Book Publishers Association. There are now fewer than 2,000 bookstores operating in the country, and many are facing shutdowns due to poor business.

Two decades ago, bookstores used to teem with customers, especially during the year-end holidays when they needed to buy textbooks and workbooks for school. Back then, visiting the bookstore was a family affair.

Avid readers also flocked to bookstores to get the latest novels and award-winning books. I think many would remember when young and old readers waited overnight at bookstores to purchase JK Rowling’s latest Harry Potter book as soon as they reached our shores.

Since then, and especially with the advent of e-books and the Internet to source for information, buying of books in the printed form has become less popular, and business for bookstores took a dive.

It would seem that the pleasure of holding a book and turning the pages has faded. Today, the young and old are reading e-books purchased online, which is more convenient to do.

We don’t even need to know the exact title of the book we want because just keying in the author’s name or genre in our Internet search would get us the information in no time at all. And there’s no need to be stuck in traffic jams getting to the bookstore.

I am in my mid-60s. In the old days, I used to frequent bookstores but now I shop online using book platforms such as Book Depository and Better World, which dispatch new and used books from the United States. And they always have offers and promotions.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, even our own blockbuster bookseller, the Big Bad Wolf, has gone digital. It used to hold sales in big warehouses, and enthusiasts would come with huge suitcases to buy the books.

What is in store for our existing bookstores? Hopefully, they can be reinvented through innovative and creative ways so that they can continue to serve those who still prefer to visit bookstores.

For example, colouring contests, reading and story-telling sessions could be held to bring in the crowds, especially children. This will also teach children to love books and reading.

Promotions and book sales could also be held on a regular basis. I wish all proprietors of bookstores the very best in their quest to make themselves relevant to the times and needs of the young generation.