The challenge of bringing back to life classics and old tomes

Swathi Moorthy Chennai | Updated on January 16, 2018

The economics of this niche area can be tricky

Jason William Smith, an American research scholar, had been looking for an English translation of the Tamil classic Tirukkural. His search ended at Chennai’s Asian Publications.

“Though Tirukkural is well-known, it is hard to find translations as they are mostly out of print,” Smith said.

Thamu P, Sales Manager at Asian Publications, a part of the Delhi-based Asian Educational Services that specialises in reprinting old classics, said there is significant demand from book lovers, historians and scholars for reprints of such books.

Vintage stuff

The reprints date as far back as the 15th century and are sourced from libraries across the world.

They are priced between ₹400 and ₹20,000, depending on the size. Most of the authors are British such as GU Pope and Robert Sewell, known for the translation of Tirukkural and A Forgotten Empire (on the Vijayanagar dynasty).

“We have close to 2,000 books that are sold online through Amazon and Flipkart, and select book stores such as Higginbothams,” Thamu said.

Challenging process

“The process of bringing out reprints is a huge challenge,” he added. “You’ve to first locate the book and consult experts and academics to verify its authenticity. While some books are easy to find, some take a long time. It took us 10 years to lay our hands on the book on Southern India by Somerset Playne, which we located in a library in London,” Thamu said. The physical condition of books is another problem as they are centuries old. “You need to take measures to protect the prints before you reprint,” Thamu said.

It is also the reason why cost of printing is quite high. For instance, a book on Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama will cost ₹50,000 for printing whereas a 2,000-page book on Southern India will probably cost over ₹1 lakh. Since the cost is high, reprints are limited too.

Thamu said: “We reprint only 50 copies since these books are not fast moving like modern ones.”

Despite the limited range and stiff price, Thamu said the venture is profitable. “If not profitable, we won’t be be doing it, will we?” he asked.

The company sells close to 150 books a month through online platforms alone.

The company also supplies books to libraries in Madurai and Coimbatore as also to other States.

“We also export books to countries such as Germany, Italy, the US and Sri Lanka,” Thamu said.

Published on January 16, 2018

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