The Curious Case of Ink Pricing
We are a strange people. When it comes to posturing, we are jingoistic to the point of being obnoxious. We wear our nationalism on our sleeves like oversized logos, while in the heart of our hearts we couldn’t care less, for what drives our purchase decision is really the price consideration. The strange, nay, inexplicable logic that drives us, make us expect that Indian products will be comparable to the best in the world, yet, be priced at bargain basement levels! Anything above such throw-away pricing and we will bend over backwards to find faults, often imaginary, to belittle our own enterprises: to hell with patriotism, chauvinism and xenophobia. Considerations about input costs and other such mundane matters be damned!
Take the curious case of fountain pen inks, which are nothing more than simple dyes added to water mixed with some binder and solvents. No rocket science there. Yet, if one were to go through the reams of writing that exists, ostensibly from “experts” analysing the merits and demerits of inks, is mind-boggling. If you read between the lines you can’t but help notice just how frivolous and lopsided the views are, in favour of the “phoreign” stuff – branded trinkets bought at steep prices. Reasonably priced Indian products are pooh-poohed as ones not deserving the consideration of the self-appointed defenders of the ink-galaxy, while priced “steep”, they are dismissed as unholy attempts to fleece the serious hobbyists.
That brings us to the key questions: what are the key components of a bottle of ink’s cost? How are prices arrived at? The answers too, are not far to seek.
The biggest cost component in a bottle of ink is not the ink itself, but the bottle. The problem here is that ink demand is not big enough to justify sourcing glass bottles from automated glass factories who insist on selling bottles in quantities that are simply not economical for the ink makers. Manually blown glass bottles are less uniform, heavier in weight (adding to the courier cost) and are naturally more expensive. The other alternative is to source from China, which to companies like Sulekha for example, is a strictly no-no; or to sell the inks in plastic bottles, which will defeat the very purpose of using inks as a sustainable writing option. Result? Expensive ink.
Now, the dyes. The cheapest of course, is to use chemical dyes, which come in bright hues to boot. But will they harm the nib and feed? No guarantees that they won’t. The alternative is to go for natural dyes, which add to the cost. Use a three-stage filtration process like Sulekha does, and the ink making process gets inordinately delayed, adding to the cost. You want sheen in your inks? Perhaps, an undertone? But are you willing to accept the residues that such inks leave? Are you willing to risk getting your nib-feed clogged, apart from paying more for such fancy inks? No? Then simple logic would dictate that you desist from the urge to go for the shiny stuff.
Add the cost of printing and packaging. Then add transportation cost (to the dealers and or, the courier charges in case the website is footing the bill). To this is added the overhead costs of the manufacturers, which is often substantial. Please note, in case you are buying the inks from a dealer, the manufacturer has to part with sometimes as high as 40 – 50 % margin for the dealer, which is criminal, claims the manufacturers. And finally there is the tax. GST and what not. Let us not rub it in by putting the actual figures so that the real profit, rater an excuse of a pittance, made by the manufacturer per bottle of ink sold is brought out in the open.
Now take a quick dekho at the prices of some of the easily available inks in India. I have also mentioned the name of the website from which the prices have been sourced for ease of use. The imported inks are all duty paid. And the inks have all been converted to 100 ml for the sake of convenience in comparing – apples to apples, other things remaining the same.
|Name of the ink
|Price per 100 ml (Rs)
|Krishna Ink Urban Series
|Krishna Ink Indian Series
|Lapis Bard Ink Vial Kit Set
|Aurora 100th anniversary
|3380 / 2580
|Sulekha Swadhin Series
|Sulekha Samarpan Series
|Sulekha Firingi Kali
Now take the Firingi Kali from Sulekha for example – the wooden box costing Rs 5000 has six bottles of different coloured inks of 50 ml each. The cost of the box, the note book, postage and the other trinkets that are thrown in are not considered and yet, the cost works out cheaper than most of the inks considered here. Still there are the so-called experts who will claim that the ink is expensive? Now you know what I am trying to say? It is not easy being an Indian manufacturer, especially if you are selling in India.
But of course, if you consider the Sulekha Sadhin, which is made available to students at an invitation price as was promised by the then owner of Sulekha to Mahatma Gandhi, the figure works out to Rs 167 (for the same 100 ml) and is strictly not comparable!
Now for the quality of the inks. One must accept that in the absence of any globally acceptable parameters of comparison, such an exercise is going to be totally subjective and my choice can certainly be different from that of yours. The brand names that are involved, the weight of legacies that these brands carry and the expertise that goes into the making of these inks too are different and one cannot really compare one with the other. Yes, the shades are different – and your choice of red may vary from the red that I prefer, but does that make one red inferior or superior to the other? No way! Is it even fair that we eulogise one while rubbishing the other just to buttress our imagined quirks?
So what am I driving at? Simple – go ahead have your pick, write, sketch, scribble, doodle to your heart’s content. But just because you like one ink, does not mean that you can go ahead and rubbish the others. For heaven’s sake, don’t do it especially if they are Indian products. Give them a level playing field to fight it out with the best in the world – with your support, fight they can and, God willing, win they will!
- Jyotshna Agiwal