When JK Rowling visited India a few years back, she had pirated copies of the Harry Potter books thrust at her by eager hawkers. Last year, Jeffery Archer said that the most reliable indicator of a best-seller list in India was the number of traffic lights at which the book was hawked.
Book piracy is a very visible, very well organised industry in India. Few people even think there could be something wrong about depriving an author of her royalty, and I know people who rather proudly state that they have bought only pirated copies of books. There was a reason for it. A paperback which costs a mere $ 5.99 in the United States, when converted into local currency costs more than a pair of unbranded jeans, or a first class rail pass for three months. There was a reason for people to go in for pirated books. Books by Indian authors were similarly priced, and therefore either unread, or read in pirated copies.
Chetan Bhagat tried to change the rules of the game. His first book was priced at less than half the then accepted price of books by Indian authors. Though it was not as cheap as pirated books, the price point, as much as the merit of the book, ensured that it was a runaway bestseller. That he became the biggest selling English language novelist in India’s history was as much attributable to the pricing strategy as it was to the fact that he correctly read the pulse of the youth and gave them exactly the kind of stories they wanted to read.
His latest book was out ten days back, and pirated copies are already available on the footpath outside my office. The rack rate of the book is Rs. 90, unless you are good at bargaining, the pirated copy costs Rs. 65. An hour before I saw the pirated copy, I ordered the book online for Rs. 63!
And yet, piracy continues!