Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Seller of Pirated-Books

The illegal but very open business of selling pirated books fascinates me. I think it is terrible that the entire publishing industry (authors, editors, publishers) is being subverted by the makers of pirated editions. But I seem to be in the minority here, because all these roadside sidewalk vendors are doing very good business. The authorities who should be cracking down on it are ignoring it, and people who should know better are buying the books.

I met one young vendor in Matunga in Mumbai who was surprisingly open about his business. Amidst all his shrink-wrapped pirated books, I spotted an original non-pirated hardbound version of the latest Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol.
“How much is that?” I asked more out of curiosity than a desire to purchase.
“Oh, that is an original copy. I can only sell it for 590 Rupees.” That was quite a bit more expensive that the pirated books which typically cost 50 Rupees or less.
“How about that one?” I was pointing at Chetan Bhagat’s latest book – 2 States. My wife and I had been to the author’s book launch in Mumbai just the previous week and I was surprised that it had already made its way to the roadside vendors.
“The cost is 95 Rupees. I can give it to you for 85.”
“Is that an original copy?”
“Yes, it is.” He then explained to me that the pricing was such that making pirated copies was not immediately necessary.

The publishers, Rupa & Co, have cleverly priced it at 95 Rupees, an amount the buyers didn’t mind paying. When it comes to books priced at 300 Rupees or more, many of the same buyers don’t seem to mind buying pirated copies instead.

The vendor then went on to say, “That is a very new book. It takes 2 months to make the copies and get them to us.”
“Where do the copies of the books get printed?” I asked because I have always wondered.
That was the only time he hesitated and didn’t give me a straight answer. I let it go.

“Are you from Bengal?” I asked him, because I thought I detected his accent.
“No sir,” he said. “I am from Bihar.”
“You have a very impressive collection of books,” I said, which was true. Though they were all pirated books he seemed to carry a good cross-section of the bestselling books from India and the US.
“I have been in the business for 9 years now,” he said. “So I know what sells and I stock only those.” On his own, he then said that he could name all the Chetan Bhagat books, in the order in which they had been published. He named all 4 as proof of his claim. He said he also knew all the books by Robin Sharma, and all the other bestselling authors as well.
“If someone wants children’s books, I can give them those. If someone wants a stock market book, I know which books to offer even if I don’t have what they are asking for.”

“How do you know about all these books? Can you read English?”
“No I can’t. But I know the covers.”
He was obviously a smart man. Thinking that a working knowledge of English would help him I asked, “Why don’t you learn English? Are you not interested?”
“Very interested, sir. But I have no time. I set up my shop at 10am and I am here till 10pm, sometimes 11pm. I work all seven days of the week.”


  1. Life and our socio-economic system have cheated this book seller of way more than what he is cheating the book publishing industry. Therefore I am glad that law enforcement is not shutting these guys down.

    Who pays the cost of the piracy - trust me the book publishing industry doesnt. They merely pass on the cost to the consumer. Basically the guy who walks into fancy crossword book store and pays up for the book, is paying a little extra so that these really hard working dudes (7 days, 10AM to 10PM, with no perks) can have a slighly better living. I see some poetic justice in that.

  2. I came here to write something but after reading Arvind's comment I do not want to repeat. I fully agree with him here. He has put it aptly.


  3. @Arvind and Nisha,

    If in this post I came across as against the seller, then I failed. I obviously want good things to happen to him, just as I am sure you all do.

    I am just against encouraging the pirated books industry in whatever way we (the readers) can. I want neither the publishing industry, nor the 'rich' person going to Crossword bookstore to bear the cost of piracy.

    All I am saying is that we can vote with our wallets by not buying these books, and the sellers will soon enough find other things to sell.