Owning a piece of the moon isn’t an outrageous metaphor any more. You can have it, and if you do, it would rest in an unlikely place in your house—your bookshelf. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing, Taschen, the publishing house that specializes in books on art and design, will soon bring one of the 12 Lunar Rock editions of Moonfire: The Epic Journey of Apollo 11 to India.
Combining the Pulitzer Prize-winning Norman Mailer’s seminal text with previously unpublished photographs from the vaults of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), each copy comes with a unique specimen of lunar rock, ranging in weight from 1.4g to 348g—one of the largest lunar meteorites ever found on earth. Depending on size, the prices are between €60,000 (approx. Rs42 lakh) and €480,000.
Vasant Kamat, general manager of Dolphin Publications Pvt. Ltd that runs Indus—a high-end book retail chain with its flagship store at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai—is proud to host a slice of the moon. “One out of the 12 copies has been allotted to Asia and it will come to us,” he says, with obvious pride. Several copies of Moonfire are already in the store. But without the moon rock, these are priced at Rs51,600.
Handle with care: A staffer at CMYK holds open a volume of Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy (Random House) that costs Rs32,000. Madhu Kapparath/Mint
Indus stocks several other limited edition books such as Walton Ford’s gorgeously illustrated Pancha Tantra and a book dedicated to the fashion maestro Valentino, for Rs76,000 and Rs60,000 respectively (Taschen). Then there’s the store’s pièce de résistance—a signed copy of the biography of Brazilian footballer Edson Arantes do Nascimento, aka Pelé. Priced at Rs1.28 lakh, the 2ft-long book is currently the most expensive book at the store. That will change, however, once the book with the moon rock arrives, packaged in a case made from a single piece of aluminium.
Indus’ coup points to a potent market for luxury books in India. Several bookstores dedicated to high-end coffee-table books have emerged over the last few years, indicating a growing customer base. Indus has expanded to two more branches in Mumbai and one at the Taj Residency in Nashik. And three stores—Bookwise, Photoink and CMYK—have opened in Delhi over the last two years.
And now, UK-based publisher Opus, which calls itself “the most luxurious series of publications ever created”, is coming to India. Opus has previously featured personalities such as Maradona, Prince and Vivienne Westwood and is now working on the Sachin Tendulkar Opus. The publishing house characteristically includes something to further raise the ante of its extensively well-researched books. And the Tendulkar Opus will reportedly come with a vial of the cricketer’s blood.
One of its kind: Prices for the Lunar Rock editions of Moonfire start atRs42 lakh.
As a segue to its Tendulkar release, Opus will enter the Indian market with the half-finished Michael Jackson Opus this month. So exclusive are these books that they are delivered directly to the buyer’s home once an order has been placed through bookstores that host dummy copies. CMYK, a Roli Books initiative, will host a copy of the Jackson Opus.
Kapil Kapoor, a director with Roli Books, says he was inspired by Opus’ equated monthly instalment (EMI) system to offer a part- payment scheme for books. “The target consumer for a Michael Jackson book is not one who can afford to pay upwards of Rs2 lakh upfront,” he says, adding, “We’re in talks with several banks to set up a monthly payment scheme.”
Kapoor isn’t absolutely sure that his plan will work. “When you take an EMI for a car, the bank can seize your car if you default. But we’re finding it difficult to convince lenders that these luxury books can work as a collateral,” he says.
While banks may not appreciate the monetary value of these books, stores go the whole hog to perpetuate an aura of luxury. At CMYK, attendants encourage customers to put on handling gloves while browsing through rare books kept on specially designed stands. “This three-volume set on Chinese calligraphy, for instance, is the only copy of the book we have and we don’t want it to look worn out,” Kapoor explains as he leafs through its pages.
Apart from limited editions, CMYK strives to acquire out-of-print books such as a book of nude photography by the controversial Japanese photographer Araki. Pointing to copies of Damien Hirst’s process manuals and catalogues, Kapoor says the artist’s signature raises their price from $35 (around Rs1,650) to $150.
Stamped for value: Signed copies of Damien Hirst’s process manuals cost around $150. A selection of his paintings, From the Cradle to the Grave, is priced at Rs48,000.
Another Delhi bookstore that specializes in coffee-table wonders, Bookwise, has its staff cling-wrap every book on its shelves. Aarti Walia, who runs the store, says a store executive will gladly unwrap a book if someone wishes to browse through it. She says that the mechanics of unwrapping the book in front of the customer ensures that they are handled with care. “It’s to establish that we care how the books are handled and so far it’s worked.”
At both CMYK and Bookwise, readers are served tea and coffee, without charge of course. The Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi has a reading room with its most valuable art books, around 1,200 titles, apart from a retail space that stocks around 2,000. Poonji Nath, gallery executive at Vadehra, says the reading room provides a chic environment for art and design lovers to browse, with drinks on the house.
As Walia puts it: “It’s all for the luxury experience.”