March 6, 2007

The crazy book prices

I don’t understand publishers’ economics. A coffee-table book on Bollywood is priced Rs.1995. Sounds like Bata shoes price tab, doesn’t it, – A pair there is marked Rs.999, never a thousand? I know the coffee-table genre are bought for drawing-room furnishing, rather than for reading pleasure.

The book is titled – Lights, Camera, Masala: Making Movies in Mumbai – text by Naman Ramachandran with photos, by Sheena Sippy. It is unputdownable for a good half hour, says The Hindu Literary Review columnist Pradeep Sebastian. He sounds a note of caution for those who may think of buying it. You look at the marked price, which makes you think again. So, what do you do? “Settle in more comfortably to browse through the book for another half hour before you put it down and leave the store”, writes Mr Sebastian. Lights, Camera, Masala… published by India Book House (IBH)

Its poor publishing cousin, National Book Trust (NBT), offers K S Duggal’s autobiography – Whom To Tell My Tale – for Rs.65 (yes, I have checked the price list). Reviewer Anita Joshua says the book may get ignored for its shoddy editing. I can think of another reason – its price. We are so conditioned to seeing a three-figure price tag even on pedestrian stuff that we instinctively reject, thinking that a book priced so low as Rs.65 can’t be good. Whatever the reason, ignoring Duggal’s book, says the reviewer, would be ‘akin to sending an innocent man to the gallows’. It would not take long for even a reader unfamiliar with Duggal’s writings to realize the power of his word.

Cost of a book is in no way related to the quality of its content. Maybe I shouldn’t be comparing NBT books with those of IBH or other private publishers. Their economics are different. National Book Trust, being a state-run outfit, can afford to ignore economics. But then we credit many in the publishing business with motives that are not primarily profit-driven. Ask publishers, and they say they lose money on most of their titles. I suppose it is the economy of cross-subsidy that keeps them afloat – pricing high-selling books high enough to ‘carry’ other titles. At the same time they don’t mark the price of a book any lower simply because it doesn’t sell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

NBT being state-run can afford to price books low, as the criterion perhaps is to keep the organisation going which is not bad if NBT has a proud history. Otherwise, a cynic would say it is to keep the 'boys on the job'.

About the IBH book and its price, I can only say that it is the work of inflation. On a visit to India, I had the shocking experience of seeing my relative taking a 100 rupee bundle to go for shopping in a nearby vegetable market! When asked about his monthly salary, he named a nonzero number followed by many zeroes! For the job that he was doing, I was paid a sum per month which was a fraction of his salary today. That was just 25 years ago.