Even in the times of e-books and reading devices, it takes a lot of self-control to say no to actual books. So naturally, the bibliophiles would jump for joy if presented with an opportunity to buy volumes of Dan Brown or Stephen King at throwaway prices.
That is exactly what is happening at the 4th Chennai Book Fair which has seen a spurt in the number of stalls selling second-hand English books.
The books on sale are authored by names as weighty as Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, James Herriot, Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, Paul Theroux, Ian McEwan, Hillary Mantel and V.S. Naipual. And then there are some finely designed voluminous coffee table and referene books. Though the books come with a fixed price — which means one cannot haggle — it is much lower than the market value.
“We import these books from London and I visit London to attend the CIANA Remainder and Promotion Book Fair in January and September and the London Book Fair in January to place orders,” said M. Balaji of Shree Balajee Books.
Book stalls return the stocks after a period to the publishers and they sell them to dealers across the world. Special Book fairs are organised for the purpose.
So in some sense, the term ‘second-hand’ is little misleading, because most of these books were never owned by any individual.
Agents in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi regularly import these books through containers. And from these centres, the books are distributed all over the country. Schools and colleges regularly place orders as the rate is affordable and since many reference books are not available in the country.
Mr. Balaji explained that in the business, money should be paid immediately and no credit was allowed.
“It is a risk. You visit a warehouse and order all the books irrespective of the authors and subjects. But the sale is good and I have imported around 100 tonnes of books in one year,” he said.
R. Shankar, owner of Eswara Book Centre, said both the range of books and the price act as USPs. “We participate in book fairs in all districts and organise independent sale in halls. We also have regular customers who will visit our godown to buy books,” said Mr. Shankar, who imports around two lakh books every year.
“We randomly make an order. If you place an order for specific authors and titles, it will cost more,” he said. The demand had led to the creation of a permanent book stall—Special Price Books—in Anna Salai a few months ago.
“There was a lull in the sale for two years, but it has picked up now. Students find reading on the Net tedious, and therefore, are switching over to books,” said A. Salim of Special Price Books.
He said libraries in the UK and the US regularly withdrew books once new editions hit the shelves and the old books were sold for a bargain. A few in Chennai are also selling books by weight.