Singaporean-owned regional bookstore chain down to two stores
The bookstore chain started by a Singaporean once boasted seven outlets across the region.
But over the past five years, Basheer Graphic Books has had to shut four of its stores.
And its Hong Kong branch will close on Dec 19, after 14 years, leaving an outlet in Bras Basah Complex and one in Kuala Lumpur.
Its co-owner, Mr Abdul Nasser Basheer Ahmad, 52, said: "I'm very sad to see it go.
"(The Hong Kong) outlet got our brand known among the design community in mainland China and into those places-to-go lists."
A 60 per cent drop in sales accompanied by high rental forced its closure.
The Bras Basah Complex outlet also been recording lower revenue - in 2006, it made sales of $120,000 a month. Nowadays, monthly revenue is barely half of that.
Mr Nasser said: "It may seem like a decent amount, but we've to cover the losses in our overseas stores and inventory cost.
"It now takes longer to sell our inventory. What used to take two months to sell now takes seven months.
"We often have to draw on our reserves to pay suppliers because the books haven't been sold yet."
What used to take two months to sell now takes seven months.Mr Abdul Nasser Basheer Ahmad
Mr Nasser first opened the store at Bras Basah Complex in 1991. It mainly stocks graphic design, architecture and photography books.
The store made its overseas foray soon after, opening outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Mr Nasser said: "I predicted that readership would drop one day, but not this fast. Looking back, even if I tried something, I don't think I could've done anything to arrest (the decline)."
Mr Nasser said books that cannot be found online or have no discounts online sell better.
Freelance graphic designer Kite Koh, 24, has been frequenting the Singapore bookstore at least once a month over the past seven years.
Ms Koh said: "It's very important to have a bookstore...
"You've to look for specific things online, but in a bookshop, you can scour through the different books to find inspiration."
Course manager for Temasek Polytechnic's diploma in retail management, Mr Samuel Tan, 55, said Singaporeans prefer reading online now.
"The library's physical visitorship and number of library loans have decreased between 2012 and 2014, while digital visitorship and e-retrievals have drastically increased between 2008 and 2014."
He suggested that bookshops should reconsider what products were relevant and how to market them.
"Having an e-platform, negotiating with publishers to make e-versions available, expanding the merchandise variety into non-book areas like gift wares created by local artists are some things they could consider," said Mr Tan.
BooksActually owner, Mr Kenny Leck, 38, said it was possible to keep a physical bookstore afloat.
"As long as the rental does not skyrocket, we can still make money. The key is to sell the right books - the ones you think will sell as opposed to what the publishers want (you to sell)."
Mr Nasser has tried to revitalise his bookstore's fortunes by organising book-signings and reducing its staff by half.
"These will tide us through a bit. We're not greedy... We just want to sustain ourselves and see how far this can go," he said.