1. Before the pandemic, there were 520 bookshops in different markets of Noakhali
2. Sales were worth about Tk10 crore per month
3. Now, it slumped to around Tk3 crore.
4. Recently, only 37 bookshops in Chaumuhani Bazar, 12 in Maijdi and eight in Sonapur Bazar were seen open
5. Before the pandemic, there were around 200 bookshops in the three markets
Mohammad Yusuf had been a wholesaler and retailer of academic books at Chaumuhani Market in Noakhali. Apart from his own district, retailers from neighbouring Feni and Lakshmipur districts also used to buy from his shop. Then, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.
One by one, government and private educational institutions started closing down. His sales gradually declined and then at a point stopped. He is currently miserable after having closed his bookshop Millat Library, unable to repay his bank loan and recover his losses.
Like Millat Library, at least 50 other bookshops in the district have been closed in the last six to seven months, according to the Noakhali Book Publishing Association.
The local traders in this sector are incurring a loss of about Tk7 crore every month.
Gias Uddin Kausar, general secretary of the association, said there were 520 bookshops in different markets of the district before the pandemic. The amount of sales of the bookshops was about Tk10 crore per month. Due to Covid-19, the sales have decreased to around Tk3 crore.
In a recent visit to the main commercial centre of Noakhali, only 37 bookshops in Chaumuhani Bazar, 12 in Maijdi and eight in Sonapur Bazar were seen open – whereas the total number of bookshops in the markets was around 200 before the pandemic.
Even a year ago, a huge crowd of customers used to be seen in front of the bookshops.
After the novel coronavirus hit, the number declined significantly, leaving several bookshops without a single customer in the last several days.
Though some stationery items and job recruitment guides are sold, electricity bills cannot be paid with the money from the sales, the businessmen said.
The owners of at least 400 bookshops in nine upazilas of the district have had a hard time for the last six months, according to the bookshop owners.
Many have left the business. Most traders have loans taken out from various associations, non-governmental organisations and banks.
Shah Nawaz Raju, an official at Rekha Prakashani on Chaumuhani Bank Road, said it was one of the few large bookshops in greater Noakhali.
The bookshop sells books at wholesale and retail levels with a minimum commission of 15% and a maximum commission of 40%.
When schools and colleges were open, from 9am to 10pm, five staff of the bookshop would struggle to handle the huge number of customers.
Books worth around Tk2 lakh to Tk2.5 lakh were sold per day on average. But now, books worth only Tk30,000-Tk35,000 are being sold every day.
Only recruitment guides, BCS guides and some religious books are selling. The bookshop had to fire two employees during the Covid-19 pandemic, as the store was unable to bear its maintenance costs.
An official of Haji Book Market's Azizia Library, wishing not to be named, said there were a total of 11 bookshops in the market. Some of them are around 20 to 25 years old. But recently five bookshops – Millat Library,
Mohammadia Library, Sandhani Library, Shiksha Bipani and Minar Publications – have closed as sales have declined drastically.
Earlier, Azizia Library sold books worth Tk45 lakh per month, but now its sales are below Tk1 lakh per month.
Not a single customer has come to the bookshop in the last two days, the employee told our correspondent, recently.
He said the bookshop will shut down in late February or early March.
Kamruzzaman, owner of Bhai Bhai Library in Station Road, said where, on average, his bookshop used to sell books worth Tk80,000 every day, now it had come down to only Tk7,000. Occasionally there are a few buyers who buy books and guides of secondary and higher secondary school level.
Currently, Kamruzzaman's bank debts are Tk50 lakh. He has to pay Tk50,000 in installments to two banks per month.
The sales for the last three months have been so poor that he is struggling to pay his shop's rent and electricity bill as well as the salary of an employee.
"I was served a show cause notice in January for not being able to pay the monthly installments in the banks. Earlier, we could purchase books from publishing houses keeping the payment due. But now they are not giving the facility," said Kamruzzaman.
"Books are not being sold even after bringing books with 20% commission from the publications and selling them with 15% commission for the last several months," he added.
Ziaul Haque, the owner of Haq Library at the railway station, said he is still running his shop, at a huge loss every month, to continue his ancestral business. However, he does not know how long he will be able to continue to do so.
Ziaul said, "If schools and colleges reopen soon, I will have to leave the business. I have never seen such a disaster in the book trade before in my life."
The general secretary of Noakhali Book Publishing Association said, "The owners of all the bookshops have incurred huge losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the government needs to provide incentives for the book traders."