The Jakarta Post
The emergence of alternative literature should be accommodated by independent publishers and bookstores. (Shutterstock/File)
Scores of literature enthusiasts and artists crowded the newly renovated hall of Aksara bookstore in Kemang, South Jakarta, on Saturday evening as the retailer celebrated its recent collaboration with Post Santa Bookshop, also based in South Jakarta, to focus on alternative literature and serve as a community center.
“Today marks a very important milestone. Aksara has officially switched gears to prioritize books by authors from the alternative literature scene, which has notably gained traction as of late,” Aksara creative director Aninda Simanjuntak said.
The subject of alternative literature was at the heart of a lively panel involving authors Mikael Johani and Yusi Avianto Pareanom, as well as Post Santa Bookshop co-founders Teddy W. Kusuma and his wife Maesy Ang as speakers.
According to Mikael, the importance of alternative literature could not be overstated since it introduced readers to various subjects and perspectives that were rarely found in mainstream works. The emergence of alternative literature, he added, should be accommodated by independent publishers and bookstores.
“However, it is worth noting that the book-publishing industry in Indonesia is a little odd. Some independent publishers lack a clear sense of specialization,” he said.
Yusi shared the outlook, saying that most publishers who claimed to be independent relied on book sales at mainstream big-chain retailers.
“Mainstream publishers only aim to meet demands in the market. For instance, there was a religious novel boom several years ago, and every big publisher suddenly wanted to cash in on the trend,” he said.
The profit-oriented approach by mainstream publishers had directly contributed to a lack of literary choices for readers, Yusi added.
“This is where the revamped Aksara comes in. We want to fill the gap. To me, ‘alternative’ means opening up a new range of literary tastes and styles for readers to indulge in,” Adinda said.
Maesy, whose Post Santa Bookshop offers works published by independent publishers, such as Banana and Marjin Kiri, noted the significance of a more personalized approach to book curation at independent bookstores such as Aksara.
“The key is to make the bookstore a human environment where the staff warmly offer personal recommendations to the customers,” she said, adding that such seemingly small gestures stood in stark contrast to the emotionally detached sales approach at large book retailers.
As part of its new curation approach, Post Santa Bookshop now has a special shelf containing alternative novels.
The curated shelf would be updated with a quarterly theme every three months, according to Maesy.
The concept of personalized book curation has struck a chord with long-time Aksara customers, who have embraced the bookstore’s new direction.
“I am excited for a more curated collection at Aksara since I love discovering new authors,” said Agatha Rachel, a frequent shopper at the bookstore, which holds poetry collections.
Meanwhile, another loyal customer of Aksara, Clarissa Pascalia, said she looked forward to future community events at the bookstore.
Aksara’s pivot to alternative literature came after its decision in April to close its stores at upscale shopping malls such as Pacific Place and Cilandak Townsquare, both in South Jakarta, because of financial reasons. Decreases in book sales at both stores could barely cover the malls’ costs for rent, Adinda said.
“From now on, we no longer cater exclusively to the book crowd. We share the building with various communities and hobbyists, which we hope will bring energy among customers,” Adinda said, adding that the book-selling business would remain at the core of Aksara.
Currently, Aksara works with communities such as Ganara Art, ABCD School of Coffee, Samson Vinyl Music and Labnara Analog Photography to deliver on its promise of being a community center.
Labnara Analog Photography founder Wahyudin responded positively to the newfound collaboration among communities at Aksara.
“Hobbies and interests always intersect with each other. You gather them in one place, and great things will surely follow,” he said. (rfa)