The Cartel of Booksellers

The details of the book with status 'cancelled' on Flipkart
It was Thursday night. I was reading The Oil Kings and was sure of completing it by Saturday. So in midst of reading the chapters, I checked the status of my orders from Flipkart. Just 5 days ago, on Saturday morning, I had purchased 9 books in a single order. And while I was busy reading, my mind was already wandering which book would be next on my 'currently reading' list. Of all the 9 books, there was a particular one for which I was craving. Because of the rave reviews it had got and also, more importantly, of its highly intellectual content. It was titled Philosophy of Science:The Central Issues by Martin Curd and J.A. Cover. I was conjuring up how big the book must be (it has 1400+ pages), how it would feel to hold it in my hands and what fresh whiff it might have in the midst of its pages.

The 'out of stock' status and with an increased price
So while I was glancing through the status of individual books in that order, a 'Cancelled' in bold red letters caught my eye. It was against one of the finest books I was supposed to get my hands on in a couple of weeks. All hopes dashed. I started wondering did someone hack into my account and cancel it? Or did I inadvertently click on 'cancel' button? Then, to my surprise, I found out that the status of the book was being displayed as 'out of stock' and its price had increased from Rs. 2591/- (when I had ordered it) to Rs. 4050/-. I was aghast. I couldn't fathom how could they take an order for a book which was 'out of stock'? I called them up on their toll free helpline and they said they were sorry about it but it had gone out of stock and hence wouldn't be able to deliver it, and I had the option of getting my money for that book back in my bank account or in my Flipkart Wallet. I opted for the former, but a day later changed it to the latter as that would have been more convenient. The fallacy of their ordering system stands out at one place particularly - if, as in my case, you order more than one items in a single order, you may not get them at once- there could be multiple deliveries of different items at different times though they all belong to same clan (read order). That's weird.

With an increased price and reduced enthusiasm, I checked out its price on other sites. Infibeam was selling it for Rs. 4352/-. So Flipkart was still selling it at a lesser price, but it had the goddamned 'out of stock' status. So I added it again on my wishlist and opted to be notified when it is 'in stock' again. Wishlist items on Flipkart get deleted automatically when you buy a book - not sure since how long this has been in place because The Oil Kings never got deleted from mine despite having ordered it.

The price is higher on Infibeam
I thought I will hold back on this purchase for time to come, and order it later. But all this made me wonder why did Flipkart take my order in the first place? I guess the best plausible reason is that they took my order hoping to source the book at a price on which they could make decent profit. But probably in the international market (because this book is an imported edition) its value had increased and no publisher was ready to sell it at the earlier quoted price. Hence, they had to change the status as 'out of stock' to give an impression that it indeed was out of stock and to increase the price accordingly. Though online portals have given me access to unprecedented books which I probably would never have read had it been only for the Crosswords and the Landmarks, but still it looks like a cartel to me where the seller decides on the price, and if doesn't get it then backtracks on the commitment and jacks up the prices.

A bitter experience overall. Hope I am able to buy the jewel of a book without any further glitches.


The new price of the book
Sometimes I wonder how irrational the vagaries of the forces that affect these online sellers are! Just before posting this blog I checked the price and its gone down to Rs. 3158/-. I could be wrong about the forces, but something's fishy here.

Something even murkier had caught my eyes on the same Saturday when I had ordered those 9 books. Jinnah: India Partition Independence by Jaswant Singh is at the center of this one. One hardcover edition had a price of Rs. 2502/- and another one, first edition in this case, was for Rs. 47,642/-! When you click on one, the other edition is shown in the 'other editions' section (refer to the screenshots).

The lower priced edition

The much higher priced First Edition
I don't know if that's an integrity error or whether it reflects the prices correctly. I may never get to know. But I still wonder...


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