Some bookishness

Today’s post is very very close to my heart. I had thought of writing this yesterday and posting on the occasion of the International Book Day, but it didn’t happen. It was Nyepi, the Balinese Hindu holy day and a national holiday here. With a hovering preschooler and equally hovering (and towering in his calls for attention to x-y-z things that I supposedly neglect) husband, who could find a few minutes to write? Not I!

Actually, its more than a few minutes because I cannot let go of the topic at hand without doing some research here. Also, I got to know that there are 2 different dates when the international book day is celebrated which took away the thunder of yesterday anyway 😉

The topic at hand is exploring the possible reasons why books are so expensive in Indonesia. Some examples in this regard-

  1. I remember very well, the YA novel ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ became popular in Indonesia around the release of its movie somewhere in mid-2014. The popular book-stores Gramedia and Periplus were displaying its copies everywhere. I haven’t read the novel but I used to follow John and Hank Green, aka the vlog brothers on YouTube back then so I was aware how popular this book was. To say I was shocked to know the price is an understatement. I am sure, the price back then was upwards of IDR 300,000, which is INR 1500. About US$ 21. I came to India for a vacation in May 2015 and noticed the same novel everywhere in similar displays at Crossword and other book shops in India. The price – INR 300, which is IDR 60,000 approximately and US$ 4.29! This kind of 5x price difference was astounding!

  2. Cut to today, when I have to purchase books, I tend to compare Amazon.in and Bookdepository.com for the price difference. Just today, I compared ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ again. The paperback is priced on Amazon.in at INR 193, which is close to IDR 40,000. That’s US$2.75. On book depository, it’s selling for a discount of 40% (!!) for IDR 152,000. That’s INR 744. Meaning US$10.6. This amount is at least acceptable. Interestingly, on Amazon.com itself, the paperback is retailing at US$7.59. This means its cheaper to buy this book in India than in the country where it was written! More on this later.

  3. I compared one more book – ‘The paper dolls’ by Julia Donaldson today. The price on Amazon.co.uk (since it is originally a UK book) is GBP 3.99-i.e INR 365.6 and IDR 74,800. This is selling on Amazon.in for INR 280 (GBP 3 and IDR 57,260). On the book depository, it is selling at a discount of 26% (!) for IDR 134,000 (INR 655 and GBP 7), again making an extremely compelling case for purchase in India.

Not that I was expecting ‘at par’ pricing! Definitely, there will be differences. The most important reason being the existence of the ‘South Asian Edition’:

SA editions are the absolutely legal versions of the original work published in local printing presses in India, under copyright and licensing from the foreign publishers. Cheap local labor means cheaper paper and overall inputs. Also, this paper is of a lower quality since its not export grade. This ultimately translates into cheaper books for the readers. I think students are the best beneficiaries of the phenomenon, going by this question on Quora. In India, given the fact that most of the higher education happens in English, the English readership is considerable- definitely when compared to Indonesia. As a result, demand is higher. Also given the extremely price sensitive market and rampant piracy, it is more sensible on the part of a publisher to license out the printing for local edition. These editions are not saleable outside the subcontinent. Though nothing prevents you from buying these when in India and then returning to your university. It is perfectly legal. A standard practice among the Indian students studying abroad I bet!

I am a big fan of the ‘South Asian Editions’ ever since I noticed the price differences for the first time during my MBA days. I remember my ‘S A edition’ of Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management very well, against the one I borrowed from the library. Clearly, there was a difference in the paper quality etc. But the content was the same. It didn’t matter. For sure I didn’t look upon Kotler as a collectible book anyway. I think the first example of the Fault in Our Stars falls in this bracket. Since the publisher Penguin is also a big publisher in India. So is Bloomsbury who printed Harry Potter books. Out of curiosity, I just searched and realized that all of the big six publishers are operational in India. Most of them have India specific websites. They get the books printed locally.

In comparison, a simple google search did not lead to any information on the presence of the big six in Indonesia. Most publications are done by local players and independent publishers. Kompas Gramedia group is the biggest publisher; but since their publication arm is not listed, much of the data is not available on the public domain.

Why the foreign publishers are not in the Indonesian market is clear – and a topic for another (even more detailed) post.

Bulk discounts?

This is something I wondered for those books that are definitely not printed in India and still are sold for a cheaper price in India. For example, an Usborne Phonics Reader title ‘Snail Brings the Mail’ costs INR 134 on Amazon India. Same costs GBP 5.18 in the UK and IDR 117000 (at 25% discount ahem …ahem) on Book Depository.  Since we own a copy of this book, we know that the paperback has been printed in China. The high cost in the UK which is the home of Usborne publications – probably implies import duty? However, what is notable is that in Indonesia its cost is still 4x more than in India. Keeping the import duty part aside, sheer numbers with respect to demand for this particular title are likely to be higher in India than the UK or Indonesia. Which might lead to sales discounts.

Duty structure

Finally coming to duty structure. I confirmed that:

  1. Import duty on books is nil in Indonesia. It can attract VAT of 10%. Which means on a book with the CIF value of USD 100, a duty of USD 10 is likely to be imposed presently. As per my information, no other duty should be charged.

  2. As per this form, a book with of CIF value USD 100, will attract a duty of USD 14.86 in India.

This adds rather than solves to the conundrum because higher duty in India does not explain lower costs of books in India as compared to Indonesia, that too, lower by 4-5x. Reasons could be anybody’s guesses:

  1. Low demand for imported English books in Indonesia. Translates into lower price elasticity. Thus its a sellers market and they are trying to milk it.

  2. India is a very price sensitive market. Good demand means economies of scale possible. Bulk discounts possible and it is possible to be profitable despite selling at low prices.

Unfortunately, up to date data is not available on the printing and publication industries in both the countries. It would have been interesting to compare the profitability of these publishers /sellers to know more.

Hopefully, I will stay interested in this topic to update more!

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Some book reviews

  • Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby  (Vanshvel)-  By Dr Malati Karwarkar
Excellent guide on nutrition. I read Marathi version Vanshvel and I know that this will be my go-to book , my bible on nutrition for the rest of my life.
Late Dr. Karwarkar would have been of my late grandmother’s age. Yet her ideas were quite ahead of her times, are even now to an extent ahead of the time, in the area of nutrition. Indians, while rightfully proud of their food and traditions associated with it, choose to selectively ignore vices of various methods of cooking, preparation, combining of food components, all the while saying that modern ideas are nowhere as effective as traditional wisdom. Dr Karwarkar explains how our food culture needs to be modified to suit the changed lifestyles and quite logically. Her language sounded very contemporary to me and very practical and the hacks and tricks /tips that she has shared are very much suited to Indian dietary style. She predominantly discussed Maharashtrian cuisine, at least in the Marathi edition that I read, but the principles she discusses could be applied to entire Indian cuisine. It is sad that such books are not popular.They should be made a part of school/college curriculum as food and nutrition is basic need of people belonging to all the professions. Kudos to Dr Karwarkar and I am in her debt forever.
  • Ayurvedic Garbha Sanskar: The Science and Art of Pregnancy – By Dr Balaji Tambe
While in principle, this book promotes the best of ancient Indian traditions, it is very difficult to implement all of these traditions in practical life. Today’s lifestyle, living conditions as well as the medical procedures have changed and unless one has time, resources (lot of money, helping hands, lot of space and so on) and the will to go against modern aspects of life, it will be impossible to follow this book word by word.
For my own pregnancy, I tried whatever was practical (and whatever ayurvedic medicines I could afford to purchase repetitively) and decided to take rest of the advice in this book with a pinch of salt.
What I would have really preferred to read is how to make the most of your pregnancy, given the altered modern lifestyle. A lot of auyrvedic remedies suggested in the book cannot be prepared by end readers of this book at home, but have to be bought from an expert ayurvedacharya or from the author’s own product-line.
I have great respect for Shri Balaji Tambe, and my family members and I are regular viewers of his various TV discourses and programs. This respect led to the purchase of the said book during my pregnancy. Its approach of explaining pregnancy and various aspects with shlokas from various ancient Ayurveda books followed by detailed explanation is interesting. However, it fails to address modern pregnancy related ailments and complications. While it has touched upon some of these complications, there are not enough guidelines on how to handle such a situation. Issues related to modern lifestyle such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low or over supply of milk etc find passing mention – nothing detailed.
All in all, a book I could have easily passed up.
  • If Truth be Told: A Monk’s Memoir – By Om Swami
A beautiful memoir. Several ideas and concepts resonated with what I have been learning about spirituality growing up. I have been a regular reader of his blog at Omswami.com. This is largely a memoir, a story, and not like a spiritual treatise. The style of writing is quite contemporary and flowing. I was engrossed with it from the moment I picked it up. I have finished reading it in less than 4 days.
  • Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology – By Devdutt Pattanaik
Being a Hindu, I had a background in these concepts. However as years passed by and I grew up, I had relegated these concepts somewhere at the back of mind. The very one that I got introduced to as a child, when I would ask so many questions and was open minded. As time passed, I followed worships and rituals at times very blindly and other times would ignore everything in favour of the concept of abstract spirituality. This book served as a refresher and was an enjoyable read.
  • Mi Pahilele Shankar Maharaj – by Yogi Dnyananathji
I have come across several narratives of Shri Shankar Maharaj that also had his philosophical teachings explained in simple language. This small book is mainly a narrative of events that author witnessed while in company of Shri Shankar Maharaj. As a collection of stories it is a good read.