ABDVol.30 No.3
Book Publishing in South Asia-Status and Prospects

Abul Hasan


The South Asian sub-region is a large sub-continent comprising the world's second most populous country and yet some tiny states with very small populations. Along with sizeable differences, there are variations in political systems and economic development. As regards languages, one comes across multi-lingual, bilingual and unilingual countries. South Asia is also marked by wide differences in the level of book production, literacy and educational expansion. In short, the area is vast, complex and diverse. Yet it is possible to find much that is common both in challenges and response. During the last five decades during which most of the countries of the sub-region have been able to assert their sovereign existence, a perceptible improvement in economic structure and in the spread of education has begun the dissolution of the countries' colonial apathies. Every country is striving for a change-a change for better living and a still better future, some cutting corners and leaping frog to catch up with the rest of the world.
 Perhaps the most important instrument of change is education, and books remain the basic tool of education despite rapid strides made recently by the electronic media. Experience has shown out that many laudable efforts for educational expansion have been thwarted by the non-availability of the basic medium, the book. As South Asia enters the twenty-first century, we find that quality books in adequate variety and quantity are not yet available to its people. Let us take a brief look at the salient features of the book industry of each county with particular reference to educational publishing and readership.

National Situations

Bangladesh; Bangladesh is the only country in South Asia with a comprehensive National Book Policy. Its major recommendations include production of suitable books for mass literacy and sustained reading, encouragement of the publication of quality books for children and juvenile readers, needs-based libralised import and targeted export of books, training programmes for book industry personal, upgrading of the existing National Book Centre, often headed by non-professionals, into a full-fledged Book Development Council, effective implementation of copyright laws and library legislation. A high-level committee consisting of experts and professionals has been formed to monitor the implementation of the book policy. The committee does not seem to have met so far and the book policy remains just a blueprint. Book production as such is not lagging behind, since according to a reliable estimate the total number of titles published in the country in 1996 was 21,450, of which the number of textbooks and educational books at all levels was 9,300. The real problem is the quality of books and their promotion and marketing. The National Book Centre awards prizes for outstanding get-up and cover illustrations for developing creative publications. Still professionalism is generally lacking. Most publishers concentrate on textbook publishing for higher secondary and university levels and cheap help-books for passing the examination. Lack of copyright protection and absence of a library network to support and develop the reading habit are other constraints in book development.

Bhutan; According to one source, Bhutan published 32 books in 1998. Professionalism is lacking in publishing and printing. Bhutan does not have any copyright legislation. Basic learning materials like textbooks, workbooks and teachers guides are not in short supply, but their printing cost is high as all printing inputs have to be imported. A serious problem seems to be the delivery of this material in time because of difficult terrain and hilly tracks. The government has developed numerous readers in English and Dzongkha to provide post-literacy and continuing education programmes to help establish a literate society. A welcome initiative taken by the government is the Library Induction Programme for Teachers to equip them with the basic knowledge of running a school library and to teach students how to use a library. These workshops will to some extent reduce the shortage of trained librarians but cannot meet the shortage of library books. Another welcome feature to develop reading and book-mindedness in the country is the organisation of National Reading Week and Book Fair by the Ministry of Health and Education annually to raise awareness, especially among students, of the advantages derived from reading books. Such activities may slowly change the attitude of a non-reading society to reading for knowledge and pleasure.

India; India is among the largest book-producing countries and ranks third in the production of books in English after the USA and UK. According to a recent survey India produces around 60,000 titles every year in 18 languages of which the national language Hindi accounts for the largest number (16,000) followed by about 12,000 titles in English. The number of publishers is stated to be about 11,000, including 1,300 author-publishers and 1,000 government/semi-government organisations. India also has the largest market of books and is an active partner in the international trade of books. It has a liberal book import policy and exports indigenous publications worth US$50 million to 120 countries of the world. India also hosts every two years the New Delhi World Book Fair, which is the largest book show in the developing world. The infrastructure of the Indian book industry is strong and vibrant, and is supported by a full-fledged Book Promotion Division in the Department of Education, which no other developing country has. A national book development body has been in existence since 1967, although it has been dormant for the last few years. India also has strong national associations of publishers, booksellers, printers, librarians and authors. With a comprehensive national copyright legislation and affiliation to both the international copyright conventions, India is endeavouring to protect intellectual property and enforce copyright laws through a variety of measures. With sagacity and enterprise, Indian publishers have easily adapted themselves to modern book production techniques and are making a judicious use of electronic and digital publishing.
Maldives; According to government sources, the total number of titles published in Maldives in 1998 was 110, consisting of 1,024,500 copies. Book production is expensive owing to low print-runs and non-availability of printing material which has to be imported. Most of the manuscripts developed locally are printed outside the country. The Government prepares and subsidises school textbooks which are sold to students. Owing to a small market and poor economic return, there is a shortage of local writers particularly in Dhivehi. As children's literature in local language is lacking, the government has announced prizes for authors/publishers who produce books of high quality for children in local languages. There is need to improve transportation facilities to expand the book market. There are a few bookstores in the capital Male from where mainly textbooks are purchased. As there is no copyright law in Maldives, a practice has developed to reprint out-of-print and old books to meet the book shortage to some extent. As the masses are literate, there is an obvious need to carry books to the masses by whatever means are available to maintain literacy and to develop a reading society in Maldives.

Nepal; Book publishing in Nepal was mainly confined to Kathmandu until 1990, when democracy was restored and publishing and printing began spreading to the other 40 districts of the country. Today there are about 500 printing presses in Nepal, the majority of which are small-scale and letterpress printers. As for publishing, the book industry has remained mainly an individual effort. Recently a National Bookseller and Publishers Association has been established with limited membership. The annual book production in English is around 50, but a large number of books are published in local languages, mainly in Nepali and marginally in Newari and Hindi. A government-run corporation, Janak Education Material Centre, publishes textbooks for all government schools based on an approved curriculum by the Curriculum Development Centre of the Ministry of Education. Another national agency is Sajha Prakashan which is the sole distributor of school books. This again is a cooperative endeavour which has begun publishing school textbooks lately, besides many good titles for children and popular books. There are also some private publishers and social organisations engaged in publishing children's books and other literature. Nepal has a national Copyright Act introduced in 1965, but it remains ineffective and outdated. Nepal is not yet a member of any international copyright convention. Nepal had also set up a National Book Development Board with the objective of planned book development, but it remained an agency on paper only as the Board never held any meeting. The national book industry is unorganised depending more on book imports than local production. The reading habit is under-developed and library facilities are almost absent.

Pakistan; The Pakistan book industry is reported to be at the take-off stage. There is a Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association with headquarters in Lahore. The total number of printers, publishers and booksellers in the private sector is estimated at 300, 426 and 3,000 respectively. According to the UNESCO figures, Pakistan produced only 124 titles in 1994 compared to 1,600 in 1981. This is a serious gap which calls for investigation. Some positive aspects of book development in Pakistan are recognition of book publishing as an industry, some rebate on advertisement of books by Pakistan TV and some newspapers and book promotion measures by the National Book Foundation, like mounting book exhibitions regularly in different parts of the country and participation in international book fairs, establishment of Readers Clubs in major cities, conferring awards on local authors, publishers and book designers, bulk purchase of books by government of locally produced approved titles, publication and distribution of braille publications free to the visually handicapped and a proposal to act as a central distribution agency for any publisher or bookseller. The negative features of the book industry are import duty on books and printing material, high prices of general books, escalating cost of printing paper, book piracy, shortage of libraries, under-developed reading habit, an imbalance between textbooks and general books, absence of an authentic database for the book industry and proliferation of sub-standard notebooks and guidebooks to enable students to pass an examination.

Sri Lanka; According to the latest UNESCO statistics, Sri Lanka produced 4,115 titles in 1996. Unlike most countries in South Asia, the National Book Development Council of Sri Lanka is a permanent body attached to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Its objectives and activities include promotion of the reading habit, encouragement to local authors and publishers, organisation of seminars and workshops for the book industry personnel, assistance to writers and illustrators of children's books, organisations of book exhibitions and library development. Book publishing is regarded as 'approved undertaking' and is eligible to all the benefits and facilities available to the approved sector. There is no shortage of textbooks, workbooks and teachers' guides, but children's fiction and reading programmes are not adequately available. Owing to the increasing cost of printing inputs, particularly paper, the prices of books are escalating. But government publications are subsidised so that the prices remain low and within the reach of the common reader. A National Book Policy including the school textbook policy is in the draft stage. A recent development that will boost the book industry of Sri Lanka is an unprecedented input of resources from the World Bank/IDA for a book development programme under the General Education Project. The project envisages qualitative and quantitative improvement of books in the educational system, inculcating the reading habit in school children and the general public, development of the school and public library system, training in management skills, provision of opportunities for staff development and establishment of a National Institute of Library and Information Science. Provision has also been made to set up 2,000 new school libraries and improve 1,000 existing libraries and to provide training facilities to authors, illustrators, book designers, librarians, etc.

Suggestions for National Initiatives

This brief overview of book publishing in South Asia projects a complex situation. Notwithstanding the progress made in some respects, many basic problems need to be tackled more effectively. Here are some suggestions for corrective measures at the national level:

1.Continuation of subsidy to school textbooks at the consumer's and not at the producer's level so that the benefit is shared by the poor and the needy and not by all and sundry: and sharing of the textbook provision with the private sector with some desirable norms.
2.Creation of special funds for the purchase of juvenile publications by school and public libraries to convert a genuine need into an effective demand; and reading surveys and motivation campaigns particularly for the young reader.
3.Publication of certain important but neglected categories of books, such as books for women, rural population, industrial workers, tribal and ethnic minorities, at low prices through innovation cost-effective methods.
4.Formulation of well-defined national book policy which should inter alia ensure that the instant media and modern electronic devices supplement and not supplant the print media; and establishment or reactivation of national book development councils or similar bodies to monitor the book policy and bring about a balanced and healthy growth of the book industry.
5.Other supportive measures like establishment of a large network of libraries funded by a special library concession, provision of regular training facilities for the book industry personnel, availability of soft loans to book publishers, declaring book publishing as an industry or priority sector and adherence to copyright laws at national and international levels.

Sub-Regional Cooperation

There is a lot of scope for mutual cooperation for book promotion at the sub-regional level as South Asia is a compact and homogeneous zone with affinities in the contents of its education and culture. This has been well-demonstrated by the South Asian Consultations organised by the Afro-Asian Book Council (AABC) in the last decade on such vital themes as Formulation of National Book Policy, Free Flow of Books and Easy Access to Copyright. These consultations, assisted by the Asia Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO (ACCU) as APPREB programmes have, among other steps, recommended co-authorship and co-publication, declaring the sub-region as a common book market with minimal restrictions on free flow of books, establishing a special South Asian Copyright Convention to address the sub-region's specific needs and problems. ACCU has further assisted in the organisation of sub-regional training courses and seminars on promoting reading in rural areas, developing human resources in publishing, principles and techniques of translation and formulation and implementation of national book policy. ACCU's annual training courses and a recently formulated APPREB Internet Website are no doubt helpful to South Asia as to other sub-regions in Asia and the Pacific.
 SAARC could also be an important player in this context. While economies of South Asia are being liberalised with a new spirit of economic freedom and opening up of new opportunities to its people, it is high time that SAARC paid attention to educational and cultural linkages whose vital carriers are books. To begin with, books and educational materials should be included in the schedule of commodities to be covered by the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) proposed to be finalised by the year 2001.
 Although the countries of the sub-region have not yet been able to achieve the book supply target of 80 pages of strictly educational books per person per year set by the 1966 UNESCO Meeting of Experts on Book Production and Distribution in Asia held in Tokyo, there are many hopeful signs. Because of the education explosion, the printed word has been democratised and the latest printing technologies are adding quality and speed to the industry. The shortfalls in literacy and education levels provide an inbuilt guarantee for the growth of the book industry. The thirst for knowledge and the demand for books are bound to grow and educational expansion would lead to the emergence of a reading society in the new millennium. A joint and cooperative effort is needed by governments and private sectors and concerned international organisations for the provision of adequate reading materials within the reach of all South Asians.

Abul Hasan
Graduated in Economics, Commerce and Law from Aligarh Muslim University, India, he was trained in
Publishing Management at Pratt Institute, New York (1965) and in Book Production at Tokyo Book
Development Centre, now ACCU (1969). He was Editor and Chief Publication Officer, National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi (1963-67); Special Officer, Book Promotion and Deputy Educational Advisor to the Government of India, Ministry of Education and Culture, New Delhi (1967-86);
Consultant to UNESCO, Commonwealth Secretariat and Department for International Development, UK.
He wrote 12 books and over 200 articles on publishing, book development and copyright. He founded
Afro-Asian Book Council in 1990.