“Do rupya photocopy ek taraf se. Aage, peechhe dono taraf ke chaar rupye (Rs 2 for photocopying one side and Rs 4 for both the sides),” reads a white paper stuck on the off-white wall of a shop called Raghu Photocopy Corner.
Set in west Delhi’s Rajendra Nagar, which is home to many coaching institutes, the shop belongs to 60-year-old Mohan Lal.
“The charges that you see written on the paper don’t always apply. I sometimes photocopy one side for a rupee only,” he says.
While coaching institutes in the area have re- opened after the pandemic, they aren’t still operating at full strength. According to Lal, students now prefer online classes as it is more feasible for them. Anyone sitting in Kashmir or Kerala can take classes happening at a coaching institute in Delhi.
The trend, however, has severely affected the business of people like Lal whose livelihood depended on photocopying study material for students.
He elaborates, “There are hardly any students coming to the shop for photocopying material nowadays. Maybe four or five in a day. Most of the times, I sit on the chair idly and read newspaper. This is a typical workday for me. When you have a cheaper alternative available, then you will obviously take that first. Two rupees for getting a side photocopied has become expensive now because the same content can be accessed on smartphones.”
Students from every nook and cranny of the country attend classes in Rajendra Nagar. The busy neighbourhood has several photocopy shops where the students photocopy their study material, from class notes to an entire book.
“We use Cannon, Toshiba or HP for photocopying. There was a time when students used to wait in queue to get their books photocopied, but today we have no work at all. If I compare those days with now, then we are really struggling,” informs Ajit Taneja of Taneja Photocopy Shop.
He further says, “People who come to the shop nowadays are those who want to get their Aadhar card or any other documents photocopied. Our major source of income was photocopying notes for the students.”
Residents of the area have witnessed many flourishing photocopy shops shut down.
Anita Das, 44, who has a bakery near a coaching institute in Rajendra Nagar, once owned a photocopy shop some distance away from an institute called Perfect IAS Classes.
Das, a homemaker, decided to shut shop in 2018 as she felt that the photocopying business was almost dead.
“I switched to bakery because students who come to study would obviously like to eat something and what better than bakery products,” she says.
Not far from Rajendra Nagar is Mukherjee Nagar, once a hub of photocopy shops.
Here too, the shop owners have moved on with time.
Mukesh Rana of Rana Photocopy and Print Lab says, “Photocopy is now a small part of my business. I have started printing and laminating. There’s more money in printing and lamination than just photocopying a few pages of books.”
Rana is printing pamphlets, advertisement posters and UPSC preparation study material.
Rana and other people in Mukherjee Nagar have also been sending printed notes to students via courier service to nearby cities like Jaipur, Agra and Moradabad. They charge nominal amount for home delivery of the printed notes and this way they are able to sustain in the digital era.
“Yesterday, I dispatched two sets of study material for UPSC exams to Moradabad. It cost Rs 1,500 for both the sets comprising 10 books. It is cheaper for students because most books are expensive to buy for students. We provide them
the same content through the notes we print. By the grace of God, we are doing well,” says Amit Gupta, 52, owner of Golden Photocopy Shop.
Online learning is a roadblock
Divya completed her Bachelors’ degree in English (honours) from Miranda House college in the year 2019. Today, as she visits the Patel Chest area in North Campus, she is surprised that a street once brimming with photocopy shops is now desolate.
“When I was studying here, I would go to Patel Chest every other day to get the books photocopied. Our professors would give us a book and tell us to get it photocopied. The novels are really expensive to buy, going up to Rs 2000.”
As Divya, 25, returned to North Campus to meet her seniors, she couldn’t believe that a lane, which was once full of students waiting to get their material photocopied, is now yearning for customers.
Kavi, who is also known as Chhotu and works in a photocopy shop in Patel Chest, says, “The business has been drastically affected since the pandemic. Earlier we used to do around 2,000 to 2,500 photocopies a day during exam time. These photocopying shops were the only hope for students studying in the university. The syllabus prescribed is generally expensive to buy and not many students prefer second hand books. So, they would resort to photocopying a book that
they would arrange from the library. Moreover, photocopying has always been a cheaper alternative than buying premium books. But now the business is as cold as ice. We are doing about 1,000 copies a day at the maximum.”
Kavi is worried. He is afraid that if the situation persists, he might lose his job. He hails from Bihar
and migrated to Delhi seven years ago. Kavi assists Dharampal, 60, owner of Dharampal Photostat Corner.
“Most shops have been shut,” interrupts Vipul Kumar, a student of economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce who lives in a hostel in Delhi University’s North Campus.
According to Kumar, most photocopy shops shut during the second wave of the pandemic and never re-opened. Shopkeepers noticed that online classes would definitely affect business and hence decided to move to their native places or shift to another business model.
Mahendra, a local shop owner, says, “The pandemic has gone but not the effects it has left on business, especially small businesses. Mere saamne hi paanch dukaane band ho gai yaha (Five shops closed down in front of my eyes). With a loss of Rs 1,000-2,000 daily, we aren’t sure for how long will we be able to sustain? The online process is such a big thing now. Nearly everyone has a smartphone through which one can download e-books or simply read online. Online learning was never a thing earlier. Teachers have been helping students to manage everything online. So now, even when the pandemic is over and offline classes have resumed, students don’t really want to spend on photocopying.”
Another shop owner Pankaj has recently started a photo studio to supplement his old photocopying business.
Pankaj says, “Photocopying was almost dead even before the pandemic arrived because digitisation picked pace around four years ago. But students still need photocopies at the time of exams for things like admit card, marksheet or library stuff. So, six months ago I opened my photo studio. I click photographs of different sizes but mostly it is passport size because it is required in every kind of form, from bank account form to procurement of degrees from university. While the people need only two or three photographs in a form, we do not allow less than five copies.”
Today, with schools and colleges re-opening to get back to the same gear that they were in before the pandemic, the future of photocopying shops seems bleak.