Notes from Chennai Book Fair – good initiative but not well organized

20 Jan

3 days before the Chennai Book Fair got over I visited the place – Venue : St George Anglo Indian School , Poonamalle High Road . It would have been criminal had I not gone for the fair. I am a book worm, an aficionado of books and above all I just love spending time with them- looking or reading.It was the 32nd annual Chennai Book Fair and i have been visiting it religiously for 6 years now .

I may break this ritual from next year!

It is not that book fair was a failure. It was by all accounts a resounding success . The citizens of Chennai should be proud to host such a prestigious event. I am proud of it. I am a citizen here. Lived here all my life.

But the thing is of the rows and rows of book stalls i visited ( for about 3 and half hours) I just couldn’t find a single stall where i wanted buy a book. Sure the books were all there. But then I would also find the same books in a Landmark or Crossword bookstore. Save for the 10% discount offered there was nothing special in the fair. Absolutely nothing !

So why then do I need the Chennai Book fair ?

But here are the key insights which you may find very interesting :

  • More people visited the cafeterias to eat samosa, popcorn’s, cone ice creams and soups than the book stalls.
  • Those who did visit the stalls spent more time ,again, eating out Sri Krishan Sweets and less time at the stalls.
  • The book fair is a heaven for people who are read Tamil books. Less interesting for people like me who love to buy books which are otherwise hard to find in the regular book stores.
  • It was an ideal place for parents to buy books for their kids. Just wish that they had used the stalls properly instead of herding the kids to eat at food stalls.
  • It was badly organized.

Ideas for the organizers :

  • There should be a cap to the number of stalls : I visited close to 400 stalls. No wonder people dint find it interesting. By the time they reached the 50 stall they would have walked around a lot, got tired, thirsty, hungry and bored to death. It then kills the purpose of the fair .
  • Ban food stalls inside the stall: It is insulting to see people sit in a corner with their kids clamouring around drinking tea/coffee and eating samosa. I dont blame them. The attention span of kids is like 1o min or thereabouts. You cant expect them to drag their parents to visit the stalls when their eyes feat on delcious loking straberry ice creams? If one kid sees another of his brethren enjoying a popcorn or samosa, you know what is gonin to happen next.
  • Segment the stalls into different verticals :  All the books stalls were packed like cards. Shuffled around and completely disorganized. If I wanted to find a English book stall I dont want to walk around 30 minutes before I found one. It pisses me off ! I would like the organizers to segment the book stalls in some order. English, Tamil , Kids Corner, Spiritualism . This is just an example. It could be in some order. Any order ! Just make it easy for me to find the stall relevant to me . Thats all
  • Dont give permisson to every food seller in town to open shop in the fair : I saw people who had opened mobile kiosks to sell –  Groundnuts, Cup noodles, ice creams.. blah blah… What the hell ? I am sure someone in the goverment made tons of moeny sigining permissions to open stalls like that .I am at the fair to buy books, maybe drink or eat something . I am not at the fair to indulge in eating! Jeez!

But here is something what I really liked :

Opposite to the school I saw roadside book sellers hawking duplicate copies of the same books which I found inside the fair. They were selling ” Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani for Rs 120 ( MRP : Rs 700), ” Hot, Flat and Crowded” by Thomas Friedman for Rs 140 ( MRP : Rs 500) which i bargained it to Rs 100, just for the kick of it.  Almost all the latest books released in the market today has found its way into the hands of these roadside books sellers – all duplicate copies.One guy actually gave his visting card and asked me to contact him later for I had asked him for old copies of HBR. The guy even had a website . How cool is that ?

But here I found old , original copies of “Arms and the Man” by Bernard Shaw, “Future shock” by Alvin Toffller, “The Blind Assasin”  by Margret Attwood, ” For whom the Bell tolls” by Ernest hemingway, ” A thousand Splendid Suns” by Dominique Lappiere and Larry Collins, ” As a man thinketh” by James Allen, ” The Road less traveled” M Scott Peck, ” Short Stories” by Anton Chekov and scores of other original , old copies of classics. I bought most of them. I spent close to Rs 500 and bought more than 70 books . Not a  single duplicate copy . All the books I bought were priced around Rs 10, Rs 20 and Rs 40.  I even saw an original copy of ” Build to Last” by Jim Collins priced at Rs 60. I dint buy it because I already had a copy  bought a year ago for Rs 300.  You get the drift, dont you ?

The point is :

  • Why dint I find a single second-hand book shop at the fair selling old, original editions of  the classics?
  • How come the police allowed these people to sell printed,duplicate books right opposite to the fair ?
  • I thought more books were bought at the roadside stalls than what was actually sold inside the book fair .

The Chennai Book Fair is a great event . I did find some good stalls like – British Council Library, The American Library , Krishnamachari Yoga Mandiram, Isha Yoga, Art of Living, Osho etc. They were very focused on what they were selling to the customers. People knew what to expect in the stall unlike other publishers trying to sell almost all books and titles under one stall. It just creates too much of confusion and also very time consuming for the consumers.

The Bristish Council and American Library were promoting memberships at discounted rates. They dint need the money . They were just promoting and encouraging people to read good and more books. Ironically, I saw very little walk-ins to these stalls.

By the way , I did eat “Bread bajji” and ” potato bajji” inside the stall . Damn it !  🙂

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6 Responses to “Notes from Chennai Book Fair – good initiative but not well organized”

  1. Praveen kumar January 21, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Hi,

    Great post! Missed the event as i was held up at Hyderabad. I agree with your views and hope somebody in the organising team reads it. If properly organized, it can be a showcase to the world of the importance given to reading and education in Chennai.

    You had mentioned a second-hand seller who informed you about the availability of old HBR issues. I would be glad if you can send me his contact number and his website address.

    Thanks in advance!

    Praveen.

  2. Shwetha January 15, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Could you please tell me where I could find second hand book stalls in Chennai? I didn’t find the book fair useful either. I’m in class twelve and I love reading books.

  3. spartanvikas January 20, 2010 at 6:27 am #

    u will them in mount road side walks . what kind of books are you looking out for ?

  4. Praveen January 21, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    Hi Shwetha, you can find then in Triplicane (near the main bus stop towards beach) and also in Anna salai, near Higginbothams – sometimes the old books are sold on the opposite side of the road.

  5. Asif January 21, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Wow similar thoughts…i have been to this book fair continuously for 7 years, I agree to your point that most of the books available in book fair can be purchased with ease in landmark…odyssey….
    Every year same old books are stocked , exception to tamil books, This time i purchased books for reading whole year…it has blown up my budget..but never mind, collections of OSHO books was excellent !!!, Atleast this time they had some ordering of shops for kids.
    I spend whole day in book fair(weekends) and 1/2day on other days(took 1/2 day leave from office 🙂 ) and have to use Sri krishna catering, worst part is catering, Prices are heavy and person with budget spending has to think twice….ex Dosa is 35Rs which is served for 20Rs outside and also place is very small and weekend queues are long .Guys approving this caters should have been bribed,
    But i love each and every moment of this 10days , also the evening talk show programme especially suki shivam, nana sambantham, soloman papaya…..BAPASI should make sure they have feedback of book fair in their website.

  6. amrut January 27, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Hey!
    Just saw this post. I hated the fair too! There were no books outside Landmark / Odyssey’s popular books. And 10% discount? Really? A good self respecting bookfair should have atleast 20% discount! Anyhow.
    @ Shweta — visit our site : http://iloveread.in
    yours,
    Amrut

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