Straight from Albert Hall Museum through to New Gate, one can find one of the oldest and most famous markets in Jaipur. The gate to Chaura Rasta was among the ones built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in the 18th century as an entrance to the walled city of Jaipur. The market was established in the 1940s with only 10 shops, including a printing press, a book publisher and bookseller, a paper supplier and a coaching institute according to an article in the city daily Rajasthan Patrika. Today, there are more than 200 shops in the market and apart from clothing, jewelry and handicrafts, it retains its dominance and known as the biggest book market in Jaipur.
Of the 240 stores in the market, there are around 70 wholesale and retail book stores sometimes with publisher’s offices above the shops. Arriving on the wide sidewalks of the market one wonders where to begin – a voice answers the thought, “Are you looking to buy books? Go straight in this alley.” Apart from the innumerable red and yellow banners hung everywhere, booksellers have hired men solely to direct and tempt customers to their bookstores. More than Rs. 100 crore worth of books are bought and sold in the market each year and the monthly sales can triple during the peak seasons.
As old as the market itself, the small shops (some with stores in the basement) are crammed with stacks of books touching the ceiling. “We started 70 years ago,” says Ashish Jain of University Book House, which is amongst the oldest wholesale and retail bookstores in the market. “We sell almost a lakh worth of books each day during the peak season and our sales reach up to Rs. 3 crores in a year,” he adds.
Book wholesaler Bombay File House supplies around 25,000 new books a day during peak periods and 10,000 books a day during the off season. “The months between July and October are the busiest time of the year. That is when schools and colleges reopen and students come to buy books. We sell most of our books during that time,” says a salesperson at Bombay File House.
A hub of used books buyers and sellers
The market is popular for the supply of old books as well. The sellers buy used books back from students when they no longer need them. Ramesh Book Store, which has been in business for the past 30 years, buys and sells only used books. Selling used books at 60% of the cover price, it buys them back at 40% of the cover price.
“Books such as competitive exams guides hardly change in terms of content. Students who are preparing for exams prefer going through older exam patterns and syllabus to be thorough with their preparations,” explains owner Ramesh Chand Gupta. He sells around 400-500 books each day during the peak season with monthly sales between Rs. 8 and 10 lakhs. Almost 80% of the books sold by Gupta come back to him in search of a new customer.
Sanjeev Singhal of Sanjeev Book House sells around 20,000 to 40,000 books a year of which he buys back 50% after they have been used. “Students have the option to rent as well as sell the book back to us after they no longer need them,” he explains while arranging a stack of books he has just purchased from a student.
Impact of digitization
With eCommerce booksellers, Amazon and Flipkart and online education systems gaining traction, the brick and mortar retail book market has been hit. According to some researchers, the online education industry in India is expected to rise to Rs. 150,000 crore by 2025. The edutech startups provide free or relatively cheaper yet effective study material. The ease in availability of better quality study material has had an adverse effect on textbook sales.
University Book House reports a drop in sales over the last 3 to 4 years, while Shree Shyam Pustak Mandir reports a 50% drop in sales. Local textbook wholesale distributor LP Sharma of Arvind Prakashan explains, “It really depends from publisher to publisher. We observed a sales drop in books published by global publishers such as Oxford and Pearson since they are easily available online. But that is not the case for local publishers. Customers still buy their books and their sales continue to grow and we are the main channel of distribution in Jaipur for locally published books. As for school books, they are still being sold at the same rate before the internet hit the market; schoolbooks are produced according to the number of students enrolled in CBSE.”
It seems that while the book retailers are suffering at the hands of digitization and eCommerce, the wholesalers are not yet reporting a decline in sales. The veteran and legacy booksellers of Jaipur are seemingly oblivious of the changing trends in the market. Unaware and reluctant to participate in the digital space, they remain comfortable with their conventional style of business. “Technology is changing too fast. We have been selling books in this market for decades and will continue to do so till we can. And if it all crashes down one day then we might shift to another business but for now, the only challenge that we assume is the market competition,” says Sharma.