Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Second hand comics market and Comics collection in Tamil Nadu!!!

As you all know there is a sudden increased interest in Tamil comics in the past few years. Internet has played a major part in this revival of interest. Many fans have become serious bloggers to pen their thoughts about Tamil comics. Some bloggers cover Indian as well as foreign comics (available in India) and many Tamil bloggers also cover comics in general. The underlying link between this bloggers is, they are all Tamil comics readers.

Suddenly everyone want to buy the old issues, be it Muthu/Lion or any comics for that matter. Basically they want to read whatever they have read when they were young. Unfortunately the old issues are no longer available with the publishers, so you have to rely on the second hand market to get these issues. Some get these issues from friends and known circles. The not so fortunate will resort to buying it from spurious sources. 

Whenever there is some interest in a commodity, there will be some businessmen in the scene. Some honest and some not so honest. Some downright cheats, who bank on the interest of this nostalgic fans. They exploit them for a profit, sometimes justified and sometimes unjustified. This blog is to highlight what is happening in Tamil Nadu as of now, as far as comics book selling is concerned.

I believe the price of any commodity is what the buyer is ready to pay, irrespective of what the seller/market feels as the worth of a commodity. I do not want to interfere in this process. I have already written a piece about this in my blog. But things have changed after this article.

I have heard from a friend of mine, who called me few days back to inform that he got a great bargain of Malaimathi comics. He mentioned that  for 25 issues of Malai Mathi comics he has agreed to pay Rs 20000(Yes, rupees twenty thousand). I was shocked to hear this news. As this friend is staying overseas for the past many years, he is not aware of the market. Not that I have full knowledge of the market in India, but atleast I'm better informed than this friend. Someone has pestered him for a long period to push this deal. I have told him that the price he is ready to pay is way toooooooooooooo high. Even if the book is in mint condition(i.e. as if it was released from the publisher today) it is not worth more than Rs 100. Not that I know from where you can buy all these issues. Even this price is very much on the higher side. To show that it is still possible to get Malai mathi comics, I have asked a friend of mine from another part of Tamil Nadu to buy few issues. He bought one issues in great condition and 4 issues without cover, all for Rs 5 each. I have tried to tell him in many ways that the price is too high, but my friend feels that he has given his "Word" to the greedy seller that he will buy so he cannot back out now. As he is in India now, I have told him to attend one election meeting and hear what promises the politicians give, knowing fully well that they are not going to keep it. I have told him that will give him the motivation to backtrack from this purchase. Not sure whether he will do that though!. 

Another interesting thing has happened in 2006. After I have posted my blog about Muthu Mini comics, one gentlemen has contacted me with the offer to sell the only issue missing in the post, that is issue 8, Muthal Vedhalanin Kathai. He has sent me a mail saying that he has the book, but the price expected as Rs 4000(Yes four thousand rupees). I thought he has typed one zero extra in the price, but he insisted the expected price is Rs 4000. Even if it was offered at Rs 400, in my opinion it was just not reasonable. Not sure whether he has managed to sell this book though. I have recently bought couple of Muthu Mini issues for Rs 10(without covers though).
While I was discussing this incident with other comic friends and bloggers, they have also mentioned that there are some people who exploit the interests of new fans, who do now have access to reliable sources. The "Raja" of Tamil comics mentioned how his friend got duped by someone whose name starts with the meaning "Azhagu". As usual this guy who wanted to buy the book was not familiar with the current market and he is a serious Lucky Luke fan. So when some one approached him with the offer to sell a Lucky Luke issue, he jumped with joy and paid Rs 500 for each issue issue of Lucky Luke. Only thing this seller did not mention was all these issues are still available with Prakash publishers for a cover price varying from Rs 5 to Rs 10. This new comics fan also proudly mentioned to the "Raja" that his new found seller is ready to sell Muthu/Lion comics in good condition for "just" Rs 100/each. Again when this seller was contacted about the list of available issues, the list came back with exactly the same issues that are in the "Virpanaikku Thayaaraga Ulla Puthakangal", published in every new issue of Muthu/Lion back pages. That is, this seller buys the book from the publishers for Rs 5 and sells to the unsuspecting new fans for Rs 100. This blog is to unmask the sellers like him and to protect the new fans. Whether I will succeed or not is not is a different issue, but I want to make an attempt. 

Whenever some one contacts me asking for the old issues, I always tell them to get in touch with Prakash Publishers(Muthu/Lion owners) first. Even the list which is printed in the back inside covers new Muthu/Lion issues are not accurate as they were printed many months back. So it is better to contact them over phone(simply a local call now-a-days) and ask for the list available. If you do not have many issues with you it is better to ask for one copy each from all the available issues of Muthu/Lion/Comics Classics. Why this is important is, the list printed as the "Virpanaikku Thayaaraga Ulla Puthakangal" will contain only the issues which are in stock with atleast 20 copies. There may be few issues which are less than 20 copies, but still available with the publisher. You can ask for the cost with postage and send a money order to them(I guess now-a-days all the banks with internet banking facility offer this service online). It is that simple.

If they do not have the issues you need, then your option is to look for these issues in the second hand shops. But this is not possible if you are outside India. Also Chennai second hand shops are dry and in places like Salem, the price has shot up to the sky.

What we can do is we can have a network of buyers and sellers who want to exchange old issues. To start with, we can have this list only for exchange basis. You may have doubles of some issues or you may want to part with one issue to get another. The will not be any sales involved in this, just bartering. Post your suggestions as to how we can go about implementing this. If you guys want, we can include sales for cash at a later date. 

But before we can do that we have to define what is the price of each issue. This is a tricky part. If you are just interested in reading the story you can get many golden stories from Comics Classics, there is no need to buy the original old issues are exorbitant prices. But if you want to collect the old issues then it is better to go for graded issues. Do you wonder what is Grading? Grading is the specification of condition of a comic book. Many of you would say, "No No, we never had anything like that in Tamil comics industry. There is nothing like preservation of comics in Tamil Nadu. Why are you starting this grading business now". Till some time back the back issues were available for few rupees, but they are sold for hundreds of rupees now. If you are expecting a price like Rs 100/200 then you better have a product worth that price. Not everything qualifies for this price tag. 

For example issue number 1 of Muthu comics in Mint condition(as if it has come out of publisher today is worth Rs 750. However the issue you have does not have first two pages and last two pages, then it is work only Rs 10. All other conditions, like issues with binding, taped, torn cover and pages, price clipped(where the price is torn by the second hand shop owner) will fit in between these two prices. 

I can give another real world example for this. Suppose you want to buy a second hand bike, will you pay the same price for the same model and make, if one has run 50000 km and looks in bad condition to another bike which was well maintained and has run just 12000km. The price should and will vary based on the usage and condition right? Just because one comic book purchased by some one for Rs 500 in mint condition, does not make your book which does not have first and last few pages to be sold for the same price. If you think your book value is same as the one in mint condition, you must be dreaming!!! Wake up!!!

Sadly this seems to be the case as of now. Somewhere, someone has bought few comics for a good price based on the condition of the book. Now everyone feels that even if they have few pages of the whole book, the value is same as the one which was sold in mint condition.

I think the time has come to demand the rights of the comics buyer, who is willing to pay huge price. He should be entitled to get a good quality product in return. It is time to empower him with this knowledge.
You can ask, who are you to fix a price like this and what is in it for me? Well the answer is, this is a qualitative decision and a personal opinion. I'm entitled for my personal opinion right, whether you agree with it or not. I do hope that some one from the small remote village in Tamil Nadu who has got a good collection gets benefited by this list, if he decides to sell his collection and if he searches the internet before selling(hopefully). I also hope that the Lucky Luke fan like the one who has paid Rs 500 for a book Worth only Rs 5, gets to read this blog before he shells out money on Tamil comics.

You may or may not agree with me, saying that please let me know the source from where I can buy the comics at this price. My answer is "Search on your own, but keep this price list as a reference". You may or may not get the issue you want at the price mentioned in the list, but these are the guidelines. If you get anything less than the price mentioned in the list, then be Happy. If you are paying above the listed price, then don't deviate too much from the listed price.

Next let me explain how this prices are determined. They are based on the price at which I and my friends have purchased the comics in the recent past and a bit of judgement based on my years of comics collecting experience. As I do not live in India my info could be slightly out-of-date, but most part should be fine I guess. If you have any reason to believe that the price is not correct or grossly inaccurate then please drop a note to me, either in the comments section here or by email. Or if you feel that publishing a price is a stupid idea, just laugh it off.

Here are the tips on preservation for those who are new to Comics Collection. The idea is, the book should be as close to the original condition as possible.

1. Never alter the state of the book in anyway. 
2. Do not tear the price from the cover(tell this to the book shops from where you buy the back issues regularly)
3. Do not bind the book
4. Do not paste cello tape on the cover(however damaged the book is). 

Here is the list of do's on preservation:

1. Keep the comics in a plastic cover, if possible with a card board back up and store them vertically(never horizontally, as the book tends to curl up when stored this way). Do not remove from book from the plastic cover unless required.
2. Store the comics away from Sun light or bright light. 
3. Use book marks when reading, instead of folding the corners.

And here is a printed article about comics preservation with a photo of a comic book with a plastic sleeve and backup board. A picture says more than thousand words!!!

Before we close this topic, let me clarify about a rumour that is doing rounds, saying that someone is reprinting the old Muthu issues again for Rs 100. I was told that about 100 Muthu comics issues were printed like this. But when I have asked whether I can get a copy I was told it is not available now. So this is what it is, just a rumour. No one can sell the copyrighted material without the owner's permission(Prakash Publishers). If I come across anyone who is doing this I would not hesitate to pass the info across to the copyright owners. I encourage you to do the same. Let us all work together to preserve a medium we all love.

And where is the price list? Well, it is under preparation and will appear in this blog soon. Meanwhile I want to know your opinion about the issues posted above.

Happy Reading!!