|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 7, Tuesday February 12, 2008|
Writers, editors, publishers, printers, reviewers and readers alike, books spellbind us in a euphoric spell. To a bibliophile, the charm of the romance is eagerly anticipated be it for a book, a writer or even a store.
The snaring pathways of Nilkhet make it real difficult to walk through. Even the most frequent visitors lose their way in the puzzle. Yet, with most of the stalls packed to the teeth, it fills you with the aura of the kingdom of books.
Nilkhet is a place where books come at bargain prices. From Grey's Anatomy to the Bangladesh Penal Code to Sidney Sheldon or almost anything that comes into print, Nilkhet has it all. With over 100 small tin-shed stores covering 3000 square feet of space facing New Market, there is something for everyone.
How these titles reach Nilkhet remains a matter of debate. An ominous alliance between fraudulent postal workers and shopkeepers ensure that books and magazines never reach the true subscriber and finds its way to the grey market. Another drawback of this book-lovers' paradise is the rampant piracy. Although a bootleg copy of The Deathly Hallows at Tk 80 eighty keeps the buyers happy, it deprives the writers their share of royalty and the publishers their share of the profit. One might argue that it does not affect the Bangladeshi, but truth be told piracy is already a big concern, even for the Bangladeshi publishers and writers.
“About the concern of pirated copies, first of all it is illegal. Our government has also signed in the contract with other countries to stop piracy in books. The law is there but the implementation is out of the view. The government is maintaining a dual kind of policy. There is a sufficient allocation of our national budget for the educational sector. On the other hand, they are barring the imported books to come, by imposing 22% to 23% tax on the total value. In spite, there is a growing enthusiasm among readers, which we have seen in these three years. This enthusiasm can be increased more if the dollar rate and tax are lowered. Other countries are pressurizing us to stop piracy in Bangladesh. Because of piracy, we can't even have special prices on books”, informs Ziaul Haque Khaled of Words' n Pages.
There are also some interesting aspects of Nilkhet and its dealings that are unique to itself. For instance, you can take a book for rent or sell your used books there- and even resell the ones you have just bought from one of the stalls a few days back. Renting is usually done with a per-day rate. Nilkhet is not a “bookworm's paradise" in the sense of piracy it involves rather in the diversity it boasts.
Aziz Co-operative Supermarket came under the literary limelight during the late eighties. The political adda during the last days of fall of the Ershad regime brought the center into national attention. The adda is no more but after almost two decades, Aziz Supermarket remains a bibliophile's sanctuary.
The bookstores of Aziz Supermarket boasts a wide array of books: Bangla literature, poetry, works on women's studies, critiques, philosophy, translations, politics, cinema and theatre. The same bookshelves are occupied by international titles like “Shalimar” by Salman Rushdie, “Letter from a Father to his Daughter” by Jawharlal Nehru, “Snow” by Orhan Pamuk and national writers like Selim ad Din, Ahmed Schofa and Akhtaruzzaman Elias.
Like most bookstalls, a 20% discount is available on all Bangladeshi titles. The strong Rupee has hiked the prices of all Indian commodities and books are no exception. “Here you will not find any Xeroxed or fake copies. Only genuine readers come here to satisfy their needs,” informs Sonjoy.
“We have to stop piracy. Avid readers do not want that. You won't believe how it affects me when I came to know my poetry collection is now on sale for only Tk 10” says Samsun Nahar, a poet.
Its no surprise that book business is on a decline. Yet shops like Words' n Pages reflects a stark contrast to the testimony of shopkeepers at Aziz Supermarket. Business is thriving there. So what sets these two places apart- the titles they shelve, the prices or the up town locality?
“The book business is not like selling fish or meat”, says Ziaul Haque Khaled. “Actually, there is no pricing policy at New Market or Nilkhet. They can hike price any time without prior notice. Moreover, there is no customer service present. Here, any customer can seek suggestion from us on any particular genre they like. We also have a customer database of 8000 readers and recently have launched a readers' card, Book Lover's Club (BLC), some three or four months back and which is distributed only to some privileged, regular and good customers” he further adds.
Words' n Pages is a success story in what seems to be an ailing field. However, success should not be assessed by the volume of sales but through the number of readers and the quality of materials they are reading. Which brings us to our next case…ETC
ETC opened its doors in the heart of Dhaka in 2001. To the dismay of readers, it has grown from a book shop to a complete shopping experience. Etc boasts a good collection of classic novels and South Asian fiction but the charm of the first true bibliophile superstore is no more.
ETC is a book lover's den because it still provides ample customer service. Any one can savour the taste of their favourite books sitting in a couch, while soft, rhythmic music plays on the background. Their Valued Customer Program (VCP) is open for all. It is an innovative program that has proven to be greatly popular amongst those who frequently visit ETC outlets. Any customer who spends Tk 500 or more in a single purchase is eligible for a free membership to the VCP scheme.
Books are really great for soul searching. They give peace and explore different shores of our minds. The classics found in these stores are irresistible along with the latest English and South Asian fictions. Regular shoppers at Nilkhet boi bazar may feel uncomfortable paying high prices at these stores. But sensible readers should consider the price for good books, rather than give the chance to go on piracy.
By Md. Shamiul Haque (Rossi)
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