Remainder books, the unsold editions of books from Indian and international publishers, are in huge demand
There are books on tables, books in cartons and books on the floor. They come in every size, shape and colour; hard-bound, paper-backed and leather-wrapped. Some with cracking spines and others with yellowing pages, and still others spanking new. The walls around stand unadorned and there’s no air-conditioned comfort; no cozy cafeteria on the side nor sofas to sink into.
What there is though, are books by the lakhs — mostly unsold editions from Indian and international publishers — stretching across all genres and sold at generous discounts. Kochi hosts two such year-round book sales — Blossoms on Press Club Road and Kerala Book House on Chittoor Road.
Reselling in bulk
“When books grow old or remain unsold for long at bookstores, they are sent back to publishers and distributors, who resell them in bulk to the unorganised book market. Of the English books market in Kerala, five per cent lies in this sector,” explains Abdul Latheef who has run Blossoms for the last seven years. With Indian publishers, their leftovers can be bought at Daryaganj in Delhi, where most have their headquarters, while international publishers ship their books by the container to port cities such as Mumbai or Chennai, says K.M. Basheer who owns Kerala Book House.
Many book store owners in Kerala are veering toward this market because there’s a rich supply, and maintenance overheads are few says Basheer. “It’s difficult to sustain a bookshop these days because people buy brand new books at lower prices on online portals which even home deliver,” he says. Thus the biggest advantage remainder-book sales have is their discounted prices. “We only need to cover transportation costs and the price paid to the publisher. So we are able to offer up to 70 per cent discount on old editions and up to 20 per cent even on recently-published books. People come to us because they know they can find a decent quality of books and a wide variety within a small budget,” says Latheef.
One of the challenges such sales face is display space says Basheer. Since books are bought and sold in bulk, there’s a massive stock with the owner always, and exhibiting it requires large halls. Besides his permanent space on Chittoor Road, he once had a branch on Warriam Road which he had to close down due to high rent. “Nowadays, I take places on lease for a few weeks at a time, display over five lakh books at once and then move to another venue,” he says. He is currently hosted at a hall beside Kalyan Silks. The other difficulty is in procuring manpower observes Latheef. “We need people who are familiar with books, can sort them into the right genres and can pick out the right book in the right edition when customers enquire,” says Latheef.
The upside to the business of unsold books is the wide variety possible since the focus isn’t only on latest releases. It’s therefore common to find four or five editions of the same work, ranging from the first release to the latest, often with a cover featuring the book’s movie version. While Basheer stocks his books in piles by price, ranging upwards from Rs. 20 per book, Blossoms categorises them by genre. There’s everything from literary fiction to commercial fiction, travel, art, film, photography, academic discourse, biography, comics and children’s books. “Our popular sections are the art and cinema ones because there are many international works here which otherwise would be unavailable at stores or exorbitantly priced,” says Latheef. Running a book sale needs one to be clued in to the current trends in the market; latest works by authors and new editions released by publishers says Latheef. “I keep updated constantly and I stock according to customer requests,” he adds.
His clientele are primarily youth shopping on a budget or professionals and technicians in the film and photography fields looking to update their skills. There are also many book collectors searching for rare or first editions, as well as those who want earlier works of contemporary writers. Neither Latheef nor Basheer stock textbooks though, but both supply fiction and nonfiction to school and private libraries, as well as coffee shops and cafes.
Both sales also function as lending-libraries of a sort since they buy back their books at 50 per cent the price sold. “That way, readers can take however long they’d like with a book, without paying fines for overshooting due-dates. Their ‘reading cost’ is hence lower,” says Latheef. He adds, “For a small city like Kochi, the size of the reading population is at par with large metros. It’s that that keeps us going.”