No space for used books on Information Highway? – The Hindu

When my child number one turned 11, he received a Kindle for it. He buys books using the device, but not as much as I’d expected him to. Putting it differently, I thought he would never again want physical books. As I look up from my laptop, there is something to show me how off the mark I had been — a row of glossy-covered Geronimo Stilton titles. The collection continues to swell and threatens to take over the other racks on the shelf, nudging out my books, many of them bought after scouring used-books markets.

So, even for digital natives, there is a magic to holding a physical book. All these Geronimo Stilton titles for my son were bought online. Therefore, I am not surprised that there aren’t many book stores around. On Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR), where we live, I am yet to come across one. Recently, I learnt that a major bookseller has a small presence at an IT park and that’s about it. But, what surprises me is the absence of an old books mart or even the odd pavement bookseller.

There is an argument that books are not as expensive as before and digital books are cheaper still. To punch holes in the argument: Old books come at a fraction of the price of a new book. So, even those who can afford new books, would not turn their back on a used book that is dirt-cheap, and rare to boot.

Studying the OMR situation, I realise the problem is not in economics, but geography.

Generally, old booksellers would visit the shops of kabadiwallahs who would have picked up old books, valuing them by the scales, from residents. This is the unfailing sequence I have noticed in the older parts of the metro where I have lived a good portion of my life.

On OMR, most of the old books don’t leave the houses. They get re-circulated among houses, because many of these are part of gated communities.

These communities have their own libraries, consisting of books donated by residents. Though offered as a free service, some of these libraries have an impressive collection and are efficiently-run. I know of two examples — libraries run by Ceebros Boulevard in Thoraipakkam and Mantri Synergy in Padur. Sometimes, when there is an oversupply of free books, the kabadiwallah is still not called.

Ragini Raj, one of the residents of Ceebros Boulevard who was involved in its library project, says, “We have our adda, where we publicise the availability of books that could be bought for a measly amount.”

But, there is still hope for compulsive buyers of used books, like me. OMR is still a young region suffering from growth pangs; and therefore, there are so many essentials that are yet to make their appearance. An old books market — or at least a sprinkle of old book stores — is one of them. I believe it’s just a matter of time before old books find their way to the kabadiwallahs and then to the old booksellers who have woken up to the potential of this business on OMR, and ultimately to the hands of new readers.

Here are some words of encouragement, from Gopalan Ramanujam, president, Mantri Synergy Owners Association. “There are around 2,500 books in our library. The footfall is impressive. Those in the 15 to 50 age group make use of the library the most. On Tuesdays, when the library is closed, some residents come just to reach the dailies and periodicals, sitting on a flight of stairs nearby. Going by this enthusiasm for reading, I can say there will be a demand for old books among OMR residents. Someone has to make a beginning by putting up a stall in a prominent place.”


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