Thursday, January 7, 2010

Remaindered books killing Indian publishing!

Remaindered books killing Indian publishing!

Tue, Jan 5 12:23 PM

At some point or the other, you may have bought books from one of those 'UPTO 200% OFF!' (forgive the exaggeration) sales at your neighbourhood bookstore. You saw a colourful, glossy imported book at Rs.300, the cover price of which was $20, and gave in to the temptation, only to find later that it was high on effect and low on substance. If given a second chance, you may not even want to spend 100 bucks on it.

Here is the behind-the-scene story of how that book reached the bookstore. Warehousing and distribution facilities in developed countries like the US and UK are outsourced. Once a book has outlived its relevance - a children's encyclopaedia published a couple of years back or a coffee-table book done a few autumns before - local sales become negligible and it begins costing the publisher a considerable amount of money to keep such a book in stock. What he does then is remainder the book, which essentially means that he invites glorified 'kabadiwalas' (scrap-buyers) from countries like India and offers them such stock at throwaway prices.

So a book with a cover price of say $15 is offered at something like a 50 cents. There is a mad rush of people who gleefully participate at the Remainder Book Fairs across the globe and bring back container loads of such books.

But did anyone ever give a thought at what cost? Firstly, such cheap imports are a setback to the local publishing industry and thus, to the indigenous writers, illustrators and photographers. They snatch away opportunities from local talent which are richly deserved. Not to mention, the loss to the national economy, as the book hasn't used Indian paper, printers or binders. Since book imports don't attract any excise or customs duty, it's a loss-loss situation for the country.

Also, not knowing exactly what is happening, sincere on-the-fringes readers get put off by reading such books and actually lower their book buying. The worst part is that this whole circus breeds corruption. Having got excessive margins, some suppliers bribe librarians and book purchasers, causing rot to a system which ought to be a pure facilitator of knowledge.

The solutions are simple. At the policy side, the government should apply anti-dumping laws on book imports - any book which hasn't been published or reprinted in the same year as it is being imported shouldn't be allowed to enter Indian shores. Also, just as we can't export a book for less than 40 percent of its listed value, similarly, a book shouldn't be allowed to be imported for less than 40 percent of its cover price.

Till all that is achieved, we can fall back on our wonderfully discerning and patriotic reader to never buy such 'cheap' books!

(Shobit Arya is the publisher of Wisdom Tree, an independent Indian publishing organisation. He can be contacted at

Shobit Arya