Reading on the balance

  • Madhusheel Arora, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Oct 26, 2014 07:51 IST

What adds value to a book? The content should top the list, followed by paper quality etc. However, with reading habits changing fast in an increasingly virtual world, the business of selling books is in a state of flux. A new marketing trick was in evidence recently that speaks volumes on the way the perception of a book has changed.

At the recent Diwali shopping festival in Sector 34, a Delhi-based book seller peddled books by weight.

Categories of books were priced differently. Encyclopedias were priced at Rs 200 a kg, with the novels and Mills and Boons variety at Rs 100 a kg. The model is intriguing and merits attention. Most people, in fact, seemed to be there, attracted by the sales pitch of per kg books. The deal invariably came out to around 50% of the MRP. New releases were also scarce.

Value versus romance

Of course, in the books business, the value lies in the relevance of what’s printed rather than the type of paper etc. However, for romantics and the old-fashioned who still treat books as individual entities, capable of being loved and preserved, the idea of buying books by kg seems an anathema.

However, for the new generation likely to be fed on a ‘Kindle dose of books’, it could be the way to a good bargain.

“Volumes have been good since I started selling books by weight six months ago. People browse, weigh and pay. Most love it,” says Sanjay Mittal, owner of the stall and partner of Delhi-based Rishab Books, the firm that set up the business in Sector 34.

He seemed uninterested in discussing the deeper meaning of what he was doing by selling books by weight — that is rendering value and content irrelevant. From a profit perspective, he just needs to make sure that the initial categorisation of rates is correct and a customer does not end up buying Rs 200 a kg stuff for Rs 100.

However, the question is that if the content of encyclopedia is copied on to a novel type-font and size, then is it correct or even ethical to sell it at dirt-cheap prices with a Mills and Boons? This is a puzzle that remains to be solved.

However, let us work on the mechanics of Mittal’s thinking (the ideal businessman’s way).

He decides to take a stall on hire at a relatively well-off city like Chandigarh. He needs a large hall (actually 81 square feet) so that there is a space for browsing.

“When people pay by weight for a book, the psychology is to see if the same content can weigh lighter,” he says. The rent he pays for the month’s fest is Rs 3 lakh plus some initial investment on setting up the stall, taking it to a total investment of Rs 4 lakh expense (including boarding and lodging).

He needs to sell books worth at least Rs 10 lakh. At an average ballpark margin of around 25% and subtracting the initial expense, he would have made around Rs 1.5 lakh a month. I am sure he would do much more business, given the intrinsic appeal of getting seven or more books in a kg and so on.

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