Ever wondered why, say, a £12.99 or a $23.99 book doesn’t cost anything remotely close to its rupee equivalent? Or how it’s become a ritual while buying a book to rummage for the flyspeck ‘yellow sticker’ to know how deep a hole it will burn in your pocket?
But don’t either hail Indian publishers/distributors as philanthropists-in-disguise, making expensive books worth a steal for us, or pity the readers abroad for being naïve enough to cough up twice the amount for the same titles. The ‘discrepancy’ in the Indian and foreign prices of books depends on many factors. We asked a few people in the know of this matter, and here’s what we mined:
First the obvious: differences in currency exchange rates and an absence of import duty on books gives Indian publishers the leeway to work out the optimum prices for the local market. ‘Optimum’ here, as with any other commodity, also relies on the readers’ perception of what’s value-for-money for them.
Next comes reprinting. If a book’s salebility is high, Indian publishers buy the rights to re-print it in India. This significantly reduces its production cost and, subsequently, the MRP (maximum retail price). Reprinting a hardback in a paperback, a common practice, further brings down its final cost. But there are exceptions, like the Harry Potter series, which, despite setting sales records, was never re-printed in India but was priced just right for desi Potter aficionados.
Generally steep discounts are also offered to distributors to cash in on a competitive market like India. With big-ticket titles that bring their share of profit easily, publishers seldom hesitate in choosing sales to profits.
But the real game-changer is — we bet you can’t guess it — piracy. The profit margins in no other country, we learned, are as low as they are in India, thanks to the sprawling counterfeit industry. This keeps a tab on ‘cheaper’ versions of a book from entering the market. Even non-Indian publishers are terrified of this ‘phenomenon’. Which is why you will often notice, around or on the yellow sticker, the names of the countries in which a particular book can be sold. This is aimed at stopping ‘reverse-piracy’ — the outflow of pirated Indian books into foreign markets.
We’re sure there’re many more reasons for Indian readers being a pampered lot. But the experts didn’t divulge all their trade secrets. Frankly, so long as a tiny sticker keeps our pockets heavy, do we really need to go into unnecessary details?