December 8, 2014

Amazon has a monopoly on India’s conservative president’s new book


President of India Pranab Mukherjee's decision to sell his book exclusively through Amazon has sparked controversy. via Wikipedia

President of India Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to sell his book exclusively through Amazon has sparked controversy.
via Wikipedia

The president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, has written a book that’s due to come out this week, about Indira Gandhi’s reign as prime minister. But, in a move that Kim Arora of the India Times says has ignited an “online-offline war,” he’s cut a deal to make sales of the book exclusive to Amazon.

The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years will be published this Tuesday, December 11, by Indian publisher Rupa, which arranged with Amazon to sell the book there exclusively, cutting the country’s brick-and-mortar stores out of the equation. Arora reports that online commerce has seen a boom in recent years in India, with 35 million shoppers according to a 2012 survey, estimated to reach 100 million by 2016.

Mayank Dhingra, who used to run an online and phone book delivery service, says in favor of online says, “It makes logistical sense for the publisher in terms of distribution. In such deals, the website typically assures the publishers of a minimum number of sales, which reduces risk for them. As for vendors, it brings them new customers.”

But many bookstores are protesting the deal, calling it monopolistic and threatening to boycott Rupa and sending emails to protest Amazon’s exclusivity. Anuj Bahri of Bahrisons Bookstore says he supports a boycott, adding:

It is the biggest book of the year. Their policies cut out our trade. People come to us to browse, and say, “Oh it’s a damn good book, I’ll buy it online.” We can’t give the 40% discounts that online retailers give. And a bookstore is a bookstore. What does it matter if its online or offline?

The CEO of the Starmark’s bookstore chain in Kolkatta, Gautam Jatia, protests in particular the choice of book for this deal with Amazon. “It’s the President’s book,” he told the India Times, “It needs to be widely available.”

Other books have offered similar exclusives to retailers, like Chetan Bhagat’s Half Girlfriend (also published by Rupa), which could only be pre-ordered through Flipkart; though once it was officially released, it was available at all stores. Bhagat weighs in on the subject to say that he thinks the book business needs support from both physical and online retailers: “For me, about 70-80% of the book sales still happen through offline channels. Online creates a lot of excitement on social media, but it is still only a part of the market. You can’t ignore offline sales from bookstores and railway platforms.”

Asked for comment, Rupa’s managing director, Kapish Mehra, said only, “It is the President’s book. Please accord him the respect that the first citizen of the country deserves.” Amazon had no comment on the matter.


Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.