The Modi effect: PM's mention of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography sparks sales

At Firstpost, we decided to check out with book stores if the PM’s favourite book Benjamin Franklin's autobiography had triggered enquiries.

Sulekha Nair January 29, 2015 16:58:43 IST
The Modi effect: PM's mention of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography sparks sales

It was an answer to a query in the much-talked about Obama-Modi Mann ki baat, that PM Modi mentioned which American leader had inspired him.  "I got an opportunity to read the biography of Benjamin Franklin. He lived in the eighteenth century. And he was not an American President. But his biography is so inspiring - how a person can intelligently try to change his life. If we feel excessively sleepy, how can we reduce that. If we feel like eating too much, how can we work towards eating less.  If people get upset when you cannot meet them, because of the pressure of work, then how to solve this problem. He has addressed such issues in his biography. And I tell everyone, we should read Benjamin Franklin's biography. Even today, it inspires me."

The Modi effect PMs mention of Benjamin Franklins autobiography sparks sales

Screengrab from CNN- IBN

Modi exhorted the youth in the audience to read the book. There are various editions of 'The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin' that covers his life from 1771-1790 which is published by Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Wilco, Simon & Schuster, besides an Indian edition.

We spoke to two readers who had read the book and they said that it was one of those books that 'one reads and leaves halfway. But most people have it on their shelves to dip in when they feel like it.' Another remarked, "It is the kind of book that one picks up to abandon."

At Firstpost, we decided to check out with book stores if the PM’s favourite book had triggered enquiries and subsequent sale of the book. Outside Friends Bookstall on the road opposite MTNL office in MG Road, Mumbai, Avadesh Yadav who has been selling second hand books for 16 years says even before the PM's mention, the book has been doing well. "I usually get two to three old copies a week and sell them off as fast as they come,"  Yadav said. The Indian edition sells between Rs 150-200 and foreign edition at Rs 200 here.

The autobiography has always been a classic, say most booksellers. At Mumbai’s iconic Strand Book Stall which has the distinction of various well-known politicians and industrialists visiting it regularly among others, the autobiography always goes off the shelf every time it is up. "It  is like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina or War and Peace that sell well. Franklin’s biography is a classic," says Giridhar Prabhu, sales executive.

Prabhu says that Strand usually sells the Bantam edition which is sold at a 20 percent discount (a hallmark of Strand Book Stall that sells books at a discount) at Rs 240. After the book gained currency in the public two days ago thanks to PM Modi, the store has been a steady trickle of visitors asking for the book, says Prabhu. “We had a visitor from Assam who was passing through Mumbai asking for the book besides a regular client. However, we have no copies left and have now placed orders with the distributors.”

Amazon India, the online e-commerce portal, too has seen a surge in sales. "We are seeing various editions of the books in top bestsellers. Interestingly, the Hindi version of the book became bestseller number 20 before the English versions came up in the bestseller list. Currently, five versions of the book are in the top 100 bestsellers," said an Amazon India spokesperson.

The book seems to have sparked curiosity in the capital too. At Delhi’s Bahrisons Boosksellers, the book has always had buyers, just like the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, said Mithilesh Singh, floor manager. “It is because most people who come to buy the book have read an excerpt while in school or college and liked it enough to buy it.”  The store sells a copy a week but since January 27th, it has sold three copies and has had as many as 15 people asking about it. Singh feels this interest will abate after a few weeks. "Anything in the news is bound to get this kind of a reaction," he remarks.

What is in the news is fodder for sales, and so the passing away of R K Laxman, the cartoonist, has now created a surge for his autobiography, eating into the interest for Franklin’s autobiography. Kinjal Shah, CEO, Crossword Bookstore,  says that there has been a slight increase for the autobiography. “In fact, after the passing away of R K Laxman, his books (Common Man series) have more of a demand now.”

Admitting that Franklin’s autobiography is a classic that is available at all Crossword book outlets in the country, Shah says that it sells on an average 50 copies across all its chains. The best selling edition of the autobiography at Crossword is the Wilco edition in hardback priced at Rs 199 which is most popular among adults and kids.

Will Modi’s call to read a book in a public forum lead to a Book Club of sorts a la American media proprietor and talk show host Oprah Winfrey and kickstart a reading habit in the population? Well.. seems unlikely as of now.

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