At a time when the market is driven by people who are constantly exchanging old things for newer ones, old books manage to retain their charm. For many, used books are like antiques. Often, people looking for certain titles find precious collections on platforms and at old book shops.

Even plush bookshops stacked with brand new books fail to draw the loyal customers of these second-hand book markets. Sathish, an engineering student, says he prefers old books as he can save up to 60 per cent on the cost. “Plus, seniors who have used the books mark important questions and pages, which makes it easier for studying. I also look for keys to questions that are normally not available in book stores,” he says.

Second-hand book markets, apart from offering cost-effective options for customers, are also the place for finding rare collections of print troves.

For instance, K.S. Mukundan of Arundale Street in Mylapore, who sells old law books, has a book that is treasured by his family since 1848. “My father and grandfather too sold second-hand law books. We get books from offices of senior lawyers. Young lawyers who set up office come to us looking for books. There are some Acts that would have been repealed and those books would not be available but advocates would need them,” he explains. He has a collection of rare textbooks and also volumes of manuals and journals that can replace missing books.

When it comes to textbooks and reference books, A. Gangadharan is an expert. He knows college syllabi and names of the correct authors by heart than most students themselves. “People who really need books come to me. Even if I do not have a title, I make it a point to source it for them. Sometimes, students who have finished their first year come with their old books to get the next year’s books,” he says.

Hyder, who sells general books, says he has been in the business for over 24 years now. “I have regular customers who take books, read them at their leisure and return them after a month. They take the books after paying my cost and when the book is returned, I give back their money after deducting a small amount as reading fee.”

Mr. Hyder says though he can make a better profit on “books from Mumbai” (pirated paperbacks), he says he would rather not stock them. “My customers and I prefer original books.”