The Collected Essays of A. K. Ramanujan , edited by Vinay Dharwadker, was published in 2004 as an Oxford India paperback. It was printed in Noida, Utter Pradesh, by Saurabh Printers Pvt. Ltd.
Each of the book’s 638 pages is cut from the usual high-quality Indian papyrus. Connoisseurs will recognize this stock: it’s pre-faded, pre-abused and conveniently transparent so that a person can read two pages simultaneously. Channa-wallas love its feel; they hate the paper cuts they get from glossy American magazines.
On the Oxford India website, the book is listed at Rs. 395/-. At today’s conversion rate, that works out to be about $8.90. Now, a new American paperback is usually priced at around $7.99. An Oxford India paperback is therefore quite a bit more expensive — by $0.91/Rs. 40 to be exact — than an American paperback. That’s Mystery #1.
Here’s Mystery #2. On Amazon, the price of the book magically transmogrifies into $30. That’s right. $30. When I first noticed it, it got me rather excited. Where did all that extra value come from? What’s in the book that American readers are willing to pay almost three times what Indian readers are willing to pay? I can’t make up my mind who’s conning who.
The digital economy has removed this disparity between Indian and American book markets. D.K. Agencies, an online bookstore based in India, lists the book at $40 (not including shipping)! A gain of $10!
But that’s not the mystery. The gain in value is easily explained. I’m guessing that the book is shipped from Noida, U.P. to a warehouse in Mawah, New Jersey and after its value has been magically pumped up by worshipful American readers, it’s then shipped back to India. Simple.
No, what I find mysterious is this: Why don’t the Indians send it back to Mahwah, N.J.? Rinse-repeat as the bottle says. As the book oscillates between India and the States, its value could keep rising, higher, ever higher, till it knocks Steve Wright, the Hindu God of Irony, right out of his heavenly perch.
Isaac Asimov, arguably the smartest all-rounder in the 20th century, wrote about economics:
I cannot understand it, and I cannot believe that anyone else understands it, either. People may say they understand it… but I think it is all a fake [cited in Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2, pp. 610, 1996].
Asimov’s comments were made in the context of falling resource prices in a supposedly resource-starved world. Our problem is roughly the reverse; increasing prices for a book explicitly designed to be within the reach of Indian pockets. So much for economics. Of course, economics probably has nothing to do with it.
Featured Image is from a scene in the movie Jeevan Mrithyu [56:44]; the ever-watchable Ramesh Deo plays a crooked lawyer who sells the hero out for an amount now equivalent to the price of one copy of AKR’s book.