Economics of selling books by kilo

Economics of selling books by kilo

Photo for representational purpose only. - iStock file photo

Raaja Bhasin

AS a minor collector of sorts, over the years, one has picked up assorted bric-a-brac. Much of this, expectedly, is of little value and also expectedly, consists of a fair number of second-hand books. When I started spending time along the cusp of Old and New Delhi, the Sunday market along Daryaganj would take up the better part of the day. Then came an order that shut down this institution of sorts, ostensibly, as it hindered the free movement of traffic. For those familiar with the area, the free movement of traffic in this area alters the pace between that of a slug and a snail. The traffic is as smooth as lumpy butter as it weaves between hawkers and jaywalkers to the accompaniment of full-blown horn blasts. This movement is far more important than silly things like books and learning and students being able to buy books at affordable prices.

But all was not lost. The bookstores along the street had long plugged into the changing business. Festooned along the cramped sidewalk are signs that boldly proclaim of books that may be purchased by the kilo. Rs 200 per kilo for bestsellers – and one may spend the next couple of days with assorted potboilers and steamers pulled out of a person-high pile. This would be for just about the price of a half-decent meal. But when it comes to coffee-table books, the price jumps and one may just manage a third of a book in that precious kilo. It does not stop there, notebooks, diaries and file-covers – all pass the gates of a weighing machine.

It is from this ‘street of books by the kilo’ that I have found some of the treasures of my little library. There are a few rare editions of Rudyard Kipling’s works; half-folios of plants and wild flowers; assorted texts of World Wars I and II. Many are books ‘weeded out’ from libraries across Britain (there is a volume of Oedipus Rex from the 18th century) and several are prizes given to gifted students a century ago.

It took a little time to understand how this process that equated books with the weight of household groceries worked. And like many successful business plans, it is ridiculously simple. Three or four second-hand paperbacks will not weigh over a kilo and in any second-hand bookstore, each will not cost more than Rs 50 or Rs 60 each. The same goes for the large format coffee-table volumes. Most of the weight is in the paper and binding. A few fairly simple calculations and one can establish the average price of something as diverse as a book on gardening or one on statecraft. In effect, barring a one-off bargain, it works out to roughly the same price as may be paid in any second-hand bookstore.

Most of these come by the container load from Europe or Britain and are bought by the big-boys of the book industry, and then fragments move on further. Little shards, by the kilo, are picked up by aficionados across the country.

Tribune Shorts


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