Rio bookstores, reinvented

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Bookstores reinvent themselves to face the crisis and the internet

From the outside, Livraria Camerino, in the Port Zone, looks like a shop for photocopies, novelties and stationery. But whoever crosses through one of the three doors of the old building, in front of the Valongo Suspended Garden, will discover a world of shelves and shelves filled with used publications, among them, textbooks, novels, guides, almanacs and rare magazines. There are 15 thousand titles for sale in the used bookstore, open since 1971, and that has belonged, for several generations, to the family of 55 year old bookseller Paulo Félix. Meanwhile, the bookstore Lumen Chisti specializes in new editions with religious content, but those who are looking for the small shop in the courtyard of the São Bento Monastery, also in the Port area, can find chocolates and sweets produced in the South of the country, as well as images and medals.

The two addresses are in the “Guia de Livrarias da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro” (Bookstore Guide of the City of Rio de Janeiro), released by the State Association of Bookstores (AEL-RJ), last month. Edited after two years of research, the material, however, is already in the hands of readers in need of correction: of the 204 listed establishments, eight have already closed their doors. Three years ago, they were 252.

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According to the president of the association, Antônio Carlos de Carvalho, this was the first guide of its kind produced by the institution and, as the objective was to make a complete map, the survey included all types of establishments from the branch. There are small bookstores on the street, used bookstores, those with bistros, religious ones, those that diversify with stationery, and the mega bookstores, who also sell electronic items. Diversification may be the reason these places weather the era of fast internet and e-books.

The Oldest is from 1897

Of the 204 presented in the Carioca guide, the one on Spiritist Federation on Avenida Passos, 28, founded in 1897, is the only one in operation since the 19th century. Beyond that, seven were opened in 2016. In the opening text, the guide explains that this changing shop profile is actually a return to origins, “when books were just one of the items offered”:

“Unfortunately, some that are in the guide, such as Casa Cruz and a Saraiva branch downtown, have closed. But the guide shows that there are many still open. The reality is that the vast majority do not just sell books. They sell games, CDs, magazines and even coffee. Many became almost bazaars. But I think it’s still possible to live off of selling books in the city. So much so that our family has been in this business for more than 40 years, and my bookstore sells only books”, defends Antônio Carlos, owner of Galileo (Rua Major Ávila 116, Tijuca).

Of the bookstores in Rio, 25% carry general titles, from various areas of knowledge. The others are segmented. There are 33 religious bookstores (15 being Evangelical) and 27 used bookstores, according to the guide. Those who sell didactic and paradidical books make up 28. The Livraria Camerino (Rua Camerino 52, Centro), for example, mainly carries books on exact sciences for undergraduates.

“Looking online for mainly engineering and mathematics books, for students from 38 colleges in Brazil. Half of my sales come from there”, says Paulo Félix, who, on days for guided visits to the Port Zone, usually receives tourists looking for books on the history of the region.

Solário (Rua Sete de Setembro 169) is one of the traditional ones that endure downtown. But, like most, it also adhered to selling online:

“In the months of January and February, the buyers are the self-taught group. Throughout the year, we sell other types of books, focused on fiction, esotericism, self-help and children. We are always struggling with internet sales, with sites that buy wholesale and give discounts. There is even a site for home appliances selling books online. But from my experience, anyone who likes to read will never give up a book. We have to continue”, says manager Alfredo Silva, at Solário for 15 years.

One flip through the guide shows that many owners have diversified their businesses to ensure survival. Antiqualhas Brasileiras (Rua da Carioca 10, Centro) exhibits cachaça, antiques and some book covers of literary works about Old Rio in the window. Letra Viva (Rua Luís de Camões 10) is another example. In its large hall, used book shelves share space with bistro tables. Owner Luiz Barreto believes that the way to attract readers is the environment:

“We are a used bookstore, but not that old kind, dark, dusty, unkempt. The customer comes and feels like staying longer. We also do online auctions of art books. The important thing is to diversify the business.”

Zona Norte has More Spaces

The addresses indicated in the guide are divided by the regions of the city, with maps and a short summary of each establishment. The Zona Norte appears first, with 63 stores; followed by downtown, with 60; the Zona Sul, with 54, and the Zona Oeste, with 28. The publication, which will not be sold, has been distributed to publishers, bookstores and public agencies.

In 2014 and 2015, the city lost 18 establishments, according to the association. For Bernardo Gurbanov, director-president of the National Association of Bookstores, the crisis in the sector cannot be interpreted as the end of books:

“The challenge of maintaining a bookstore is too big. Books compete with many other entertainment alternatives, with new technologies. And it’s up to bookstores and publishers to look for alternatives, such as offering aggregate services. But I believe books will keep their place, because a world without stories is inconceivable.”

According to the Panel of Book Sales in Brazil, a survey that the National Union of Book Publishers publishes monthly in partnership with Nielsen Bookscan, despite the crisis, there was a 6.02% growth in the amount of books sold in the country. Studies show that the number of readers has increased again: in 2011, it represented 50% of the population and in 2015 it reached 56%. The reading index indicates that the Brazilian reads, on average, 4.96 books per year. The previous average was four.

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Livraria Letra Viva

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Livraria Letra Viva

(see top photo)

Livraria Camerino

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Livraria da Federação Espírita

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Livraria Solário

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Livraria Cultura

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Livraria Cultura

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Livraria Lumen Chisti

Source (PT)

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