Thursday, March 30, 2006

A new twist on 'Indian made foreign books'

A while ago, I wrote this post about Indian (actually, South Asian) reprints of textbooks originally published in rich countries; the Indian editions are available at prices as low as 5% of that of the originals. Though there is a steep drop in production quality (poor quality paper, black-and-white printing, and so on), what is really important in the Indian context is the low price, which makes these books affordable to our students.

It's not just the students studying in India who benefit from these low-priced editions. Indian students in the US stock up on them on their visits home; and I am sure the ones who will be leaving our shores in the next few months are also thinking hard about which books they will need, and if their Indian editions are available.

Clearly, this huge price differential is a potential business opportunity; however, one cannot pursue it because buying Indian editions and selling them in the US is illegal (it's a copyright violation). But some 'entrepreneurs' are undeterred by such constraints! Do read this New York Times story.

Interestingly, import of such inexpensive books for one's own use is legal in the US. What is illegal is re-selling them to others. In other words, one cannot get into the book-selling business using the strategy of exploiting this price arbitrage. For example, this is what some enterprising student did in Purdue university:

Tom Frey, the owner of the University Bookstore at Purdue, said he was taken aback when he was approached for advice by a student collecting orders for a shipment of books from India — enough to fill a shipping container.

The student had, in effect, set himself up as a low-cost alternative to Mr. Frey's store.

"He was doing it out of his dorm room," Mr. Frey said.

The underlying cause for this 'business opportunity', of course, is the very high prices of textbooks in the US. The NYTimes story mentions an exorbitant figures of $ 250 each for some engineering texts!


  1. Anonymous said...

    I won't be surprised if people take PDF copies of books and sell it in the US. Atleast, they don't need to take truck loads...they just need a reliable high speed printer for printing.

  2. Abi said...

    Kaps, what you are suggesting sounds like a version of 'the original Napster' for bootlegged books! Who knows, it might yet happen ...