End of Road for the Street Book-sellers?

Book Sellers at Fort area in Bombay
Book Sellers at Fort area in Bombay

In the Fort area of Bombay, behind the lane of High court, you will find rows of books lying on the foot-park. The books are arranged in the 3 stacks according to prices: Rs 30 ($ 0.50), Rs 60 ($1) & Rs 100 ($1.75). I asked Shankar, who ran the place, how he priced the books, on which he replied that the pricing depends on the condition of the book and his purchase price. All the books on sale were used ones, bought from individuals, public libraries or exchanged there.

Shankar had an elegance and ethicate of an usual book sellers. He never interrupted while you browsed the books, helped only when asked for, offered a place to seat if you wanted to read few pages and entertained no bargaining. On a peaceful Sunday afternoon, Shankar’s offered better ambiance than most of the book stores in the city.  Resting below the shades Pepal tree, you can find the old copies of Lonely Planets, National Geographics, Orange Penguin Paperbacks, the classics and the bestsellers of yesteryear. On the background is the beautiful Victorian buildings of Bombay, and not -so busy streets (thank you Sunday)

Street book sellers
Street book sellers

I asked Shankar how was his business to which he replied thik thaak (not bad).

“Earlier it was much better”

How earlier? I asked

4-5 years back. I used to sell pirated copies more than these Second hand books. The margins on them were very good.

“Weren’t you afraid of cops ?”

“That time it was not a big deal. But gradually, it became very difficult. If they caught a hawker like me selling pirated book, it is the end of his life. The fine is more than Rs 50,000 ($800) and with imprisonment, there is no sight of hope for him. That’s why I left that business behind me.”

What kind of books you usually sell most?

“This street was famous for only 2 things: Art gallery and Court. People use to come here to buy law and Art Books. One time, a firangi paid Rs 4000 for a coffee table book. That was my best sell till date.”

He went on telling me the story of his prime when there were 4 book sellers on the street. Now the number in down to 2. Both the margins and the volumes are down. He can not compete with the internet and home delivery. I told him that  even the big stores are facing the same challenge. The art of survival is in innovation and his style of selling books is pleasant. He looked assured and I moved on after buying 2 National Geographic Magazines, dated Sept 1987 and July 1986 for Rs 30 each.

What are your views on the Street Book sellers and on their contribution to the culture of the city ? Do write your views.

My theme for #AtoZChallenge is Indian Writing in English. To know more about #AtoZChallenge, please visit the link 

14 Comments Add yours

  1. Avinash I never knew you write so well. I read the post twice because the first time I was lost in our writing alone 🙂 I for myself love street book sellers and somehow they know ht trick of the trade, like they have felt a bibliophile in themselves. When I move to Pune we will go to this place 🙂



    1. Hey Richa, thank you for the kind words. The books lying on the lanes is such a positive thing for the city. These book sellers know all about the books but the irony is that they have never read it.
      Do let me know when you are in Bombay, we will definitely visit this place 🙂


  2. They don’t sell pirated books these day?! I thought they still sold them.

    I love going to these booksellers, just to see what the public is reading these days. I always feel proud when the mass-marketed books are the ones I have read.

    This week, it is the flood of Sophie Kinsella and P.C.Cast. You can see them everywhere.


    1. Actually i was talking about the particular bookseller. One who has a permanent Adda, they dont risk piracy because its a big criminal offence. Others in traffic signals and all, they do sell pirated ones

      I didnt see Shopie Kinsella or P.C Cast’s books there. This one sells all the used books so I doubt we will find any shopie’s second hand already


  3. Like you said, even the big bookstores are running out of business. One of the Landmark stores in Bangalore used to be two storeys about four years ago (when I’d first moved here) – one for books and the other for music and movie CDs. Now it’s just one floor, and books occupy only a small corner.


    1. True, that is a big problem. I have also written a post on the same. Do check it out


  4. Krishna says:

    Digitization is taking a toll on book publishing. Most of the urban youth has moved to ebooks and online reading. But still I know many people including youth as well as elderly buying books from the street sellers and shops. They still believe that physical book reading helps them to concentrate more and keep calm. Personally I too believe so.
    Also Indians are price conscious. So they always go for second hand books which are easily available with these street sellers. So I wont say its the end of road for street sellers. But yeah would affect them badly.


    1. Hello Krishna. Thank you for your comment. To be honest. I have nothing against digitization or technology. I think so its for greater good of literary. However, I do agree with you that street book sellers are here to stay, but they can’t take things for granted, and need to improvise to attract the crowds, which, as you said, are price sensitive


  5. Street booksellers are a good place to look for out of print books. We have often picked up some good old titles. Stopping by via the A to Z Blogathon. Good Luck!


    1. Hello Archana. Thank you for your comment.
      I agree that the street book sellers offer good options, specially with the old titles.


  6. Vinitha says:

    Great post! My take on books has evolved with time. In the past year, I vowed never to buy a printed book again. I use the local library and buy e-books. I think I am doing my bit to save the trees. Much of it comes from the fact that I rarely re-read books and I move around the world too much. Packing up books is a pain and preserving them is harder. In the digital age, I find paper books outdated. I do agree, the smell and the feel of books cannot be replicated but as an educated well-read generation we need to take into account the trees. Now coming to the topic of bookstores, I try to go indie, local mom and pop instead of big chains whenever possible (I still buy paper books for my daughter) and also pick quite a few on the street. The experience is nice but honestly it is dying and imho not worth reviving


    1. Thank you Vinitha for you insightful comment. I agree that e-books are the future. The technology is promising and i think so with advance ebook readers in the coming years, the physical books might become a avoidable luxury.


  7. Disha says:

    I miss the street book shops that I frequented in Lucknow & Mumbai. Now, it more about buying books from retail stores…I wonder if those shops still exist or not. Nice writeup.


    1. Thank you Disha . Street shops are still there but many are rather selling used books or some pirated books


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