At a traffic stop entering a major roundabout, a man in a blue t-shirt weaves between six lanes of traffic holding books up to car windows.
No one takes the bait.
The young man is a book vendor in the streets of Mumbai, and the area around the traffic light is what he refers to as his “signal”, or territory.
“The most I ever sold in a day was 26 books,” says Salman Sayed, a native of Mumbai who found his way out of the bookselling hustle by teaching himself to speak, read, and write English.
With the help of Beth Colosimo, a Salt Lake City business leader and philanthropist, Sayed is now making his way to the United States to pursue an MBA at Utah’s Westminster College. However, Sayed, who grew up on the streets of Mumbai selling books, remembers how difficult it was to have consistent business.
His eyes widen as he notices the inventory of his long-time friend and current bookseller.
“The first book I sold was from that author,” he says, pointing to a Sidney Sheldon book.
Wrapped in a protective plastic film, book titles like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” or Mark Manson self-help books are available to purchase. But, in an age of mobile devices and easily consumed news feeds and content, selling hard copies of books has become an increasingly less viable business.
Moreover, with police extorting and shaking down vendors for “protection money”, profit margins for street book vendors aren’t exactly favorable. Additionally, the alternative of selling books independently, or without staking out a territory and paying law enforcement, is even less profitable as it leaves vendors open to further extortion.
“Bosses”, who might provide the means of distribution, also control and extort their respective territories of vendors, preying on individual peddlers who aren’t affiliated with law enforcement or another boss.
Although India’s literacy rate is rising exponentially, the reality is that the digital age might mean that India’s youth and soon-to-be educated population will skip over reading hard copy books, opting to read and listen to books digitally, or perhaps not at all.
Alternatively, newspaper readership has risen alongside literacy rates. According to the Indian Readership Survey, in the past two years, India has seen nearly a 20 million reader increase, with 39% of the population taking the time to read a newspaper.
While India is a developing economy, and quickly so, media convergence is evident everywhere.
From rural villages without flushing toilets or proper roads to a slum in the heart of Mumbai, nearly every adult has a smartphone, scrolling Instagram, posting to Tik Tok, or messaging on WhatsApp. Thus, from personal observation alone, the existence of and contribution to the proverbial “global village” is undeniably a reality.