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Dubai stores author used book revival

Stores across city offer rare titles and sustain clienteles despite online trend

Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives
Customers at a second-hand book shop in Dubai. Such stores offer clients new books atdiscounts from the market price besides helping them find titles that have gone out of print.
Gulf News

Dubai: Used book stores are feeling the crunch around the world as demand for e-books and the sale of used material on shopping websites make survival harder for the after-market literary industry.

For years, used book stores across North America have been shuttering their operations as internet shopping becomes more popular with their clientele.

Dubai, thankfully, is bucking the trend, say local buy-and-trade used book stores that report footfall remains strong as readers hunt for rare books no longer in print or just for a great weekend deal on a classic novel complete with wrinkled cover pages and dog-eared pages inside.

When you walk into BookWorld, you can’t help but feel that the store is very aptly named. The small Satwa shop is filled to bursting point with all kinds of books — shelves stacked with volume upon volume are pushed aside to reveal even more shelves with even more titles. It’s a bibliophile’s heaven already, but it gets better.

BookWorld is a second-hand bookshop that sells both used and new books for lower than the market price. “Reuse, reduce, recycle — that’s the environmental commitment that we have,” says B.K. Sainani, the store’s manager.

The primary business of BookWorld, which has another branch in Karama, is the selling and buyback of its own books. That is, if you buy a book from the store, you can return it for half your money back. The store is also willing to buy used books from customers for a few dirhams provided that they are clean and will sell.

It’s a bargain for Dubai residents who like to flip through their books, page by page.

“People don’t want to live with their books, they just want to sleep with them,” says Sainani. “[At BookWorld], you can sleep with the books as long as you want and get half your money back [when you return them].”

And his customers are appreciative of the opportunity. Daisy Tee, a front desk executive at a company in Sharjah International Airport Free Zone, who stumbled across BookWorld while she was exploring Dubai, was thrilled. “I love the idea of returning the book after reading… And when you return it, voila! You get to have discount on your next purchase,” she said, referring to the store’s system where a customer’s buyback money goes towards new purchases.

Rishana Azmie, a stay-at-home mother who recently moved to Dubai from Sri Lanka, says she misses browsing through the second-hand bookstores of her hometown. “The best part of it was [the shop owners] could tell exactly where each book is placed… They gave you tips on the books,” she says.

That’s the kind of service that Mike McGinley, who owns and manages House of Prose second-hand bookstores in the UAE and Oman, tries to provide to his customers. “We have well-educated employees who know about books and series,” he says. “Second-hand stores help support the customer.”

The House of Prose stores, which have branches in Garden Centre and on Jumeirah Beach Road, operate in much the same way as does BookWorld. McGinley also runs Book&Bean stores in Ace’s branches in Dubai Festival City and Yas Island, which operate in the same way as House of Prose but also sell coffee.

McGinley explains that while larger chain stores will have the latest releases, they often don’t have older books. “In many respects I will have more titles,” he says. “I will have more depth of the author.”

That holds out with the experiences of his customers. Bianca Dikturk, centre manager at Sentinel Business Centres and a regular at House of Prose, says, “The one in the Jumeirah Plaza is really magical as, whichever book I am looking for, seems to miraculously be there, no matter how obscure the title.”

“It’s my first, and usually last, stop,” she adds.

Ultimately, though, the experience at these shops is about the love of reading.

McGinley says that his store’s varied selection and experienced staff help support and promote book-reading.

And he has plans to start a House of Prose website that will deliver books to people’s homes.

Sainani says that he aims to revive dying reading habits through his BookWorld shops. “Reading habits have become very expensive,” he says. “We provide middle-class people with value for money.”