Pune’s Second-Hand Rising

By

Sa’ad Ahmed Shaikh

The first bookseller we spoke to has a roadside bookstore, which is one of many that dot the streets of Pune, India; a refreshing sight amidst the countless stalls selling cheap jewelry and dresses.

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Books on sale by the road. Image courtesy: Saad Ahmed Shaikh

Second-hand bookstores are seeing a great surge in the metropolitan city of Pune, India–citizens are loving it! S.U.M delved into the crowd to find the reason behind the frenzied appeal.

When S.U.M asked locals why the second-hand bookstores remains their top choice for buying books, Papeeha, a student currently pursuing her Masters Degree, replied…

“Because it’s cheap. We don’t need fancy stuff; the fancy things for us are just the words on the paper, doesn’t matter where we get it from.”

These stores usually sell a book based on two primary factors;

  1. The condition of the book
  2. The popularity of the author

For example, a shopkeeper would never sell a book by John Grisham for less than 60₹ (0.89 cents), but the same cannot be said for an obscure work. However, an Agatha Christie work would fetch less than 30₹ (0.45 cents) if it’s in a dilapidated condition. The hot-selling writers are Amish Tripathi, Archer, Agatha ChristieJohn Grisham, and Chetan Bhagat.

So where do the booksellers get these books in the first place? They usually buy them in bulk amounts from scrap-store owners at around 50₹(0.75 cents) per KG, which equals approximately, 12-15₹(0.18-0.22 cents) per book.  They then hike the price up, and sell them at 40, 50, even a 150₹($2.24) per book; thus making a decent profit to live by. A few readers also deal directly with the scrap-stores, thus, potentially buying a book by J.R.R. Tolkien for a mere 30₹(0.45 cents) rather than 150₹($2.24) from a seller.  A hotspot is, Appa Balwant Chowk, better and more aptly known as ‘ABC’.

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Appa Balwant Chowk offers a wide range of books, from syllabus textbooks to Victorian classics. Image courtesy: http://www.indianexpress.com

The streets there are lined with innumerable shops offering special rates for all types of book-hunters, be it local college students looking for used textbooks, or the regular bookworm out to replenish his/her bookshelf.

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A few shops at ABC which offer discount rates for the student population. Image courtesy: JustDial.

ABC holds the most sway over the Puneite reader population: if you can’t find it in ABC, you probably won’t find it anywhere else.

Prominent bookstores like Landmark, Crossword, and Bargain Book Hut, etc… also engage in mega-sales of books. Unlike their humbler counterparts, their books are in premium condition, with no prior readers. However, at the price where one buys 2 or 3 books from these sales, you can get more than double the books at any random roadside bookseller. And first copies do not seem to have the appeal anymore.

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Bargain Book Hut has been a popular choice lately for its slashed prices. Image courtesy: bargainbookhut.com

For the readers, a second-hand books has more than the writer’s story to tell and that makes it more special for them. For them; the dog-ears (for the adventurous), the highlights, and the margin scribbles add to the charm of the book, and make them feel part of a larger community.

Anant Solanki’s bookstore in Camp area, however, boasts of a different sale. They do not deal primarily in second-hand books, but in store-copies. Mr Solanki sells the same books one would find in the corporate stores, but at a discount.

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Anant Solanki’s shop is always stocked with the latest releases. Image courtesy: Saad Ahmed Shaikh

A Khalid Hosseini thus costing 600₹($8.94) would be sold at his store at 400₹($5.96). He sells his most expensive item, A Song of Ice and Fire, at 4,000₹($59.60), while the cheapest book is priced at 225₹($3.35).

Running alongside the booksellers is the Grand Book Sale in Pune. The annual book fair held at the art hub of Ganesh Kala Krida Manch, is currently in its fifteenth year, and lays claim to be the largest book fair in Western India. People from all over the state flock to the fair to grab the best deals before they run out of all the good ones.

Not to be left behind, the internet is fast catching up with the phenomenon.
Online sites like BookChor and BookAdda are creating a wider and more comprehensive platform for book lovers in the region. The underlying principle at these sites is the same; reasonably priced books for everyone.

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BookChor and BookAdda are online apps which provide ease of access for readers all over the country.

There’s no dearth of either supply or demand; rather, both have increased exponentially over the past few years. These stores have thus become a haven for those with limited finances, but an unquenchable thirst for the printed word. In a world with blatant ignorance and increasing unrest, such spots are a welcomed sight in easing a bit of the pain going round the masses.

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