Naureen Aqueel

Publishing in Pakistan: The brighter side

Posted on: March 28, 2008

Published in The Shelf (class newsletter), March 2008.

While there are many grievances among publishers and other elements within the publishing and books sector of Pakistan about the perceived government indifference towards publishing and readership in the country, an impartial look into the issue reveals that there is more to it than just meets the eye.

With very few resources to meet its ever-increasing needs on account of being a developing state, the Government of Pakistan still manages to undertake some commendable initiatives in the interests of the publishing and book industry. Although it appears that there is very little that the government is doing to encourage publishing and readership in the country, a survey of some government organisations operating in the books sector helped uncover some praiseworthy steps that most often go unnoticed. The organisations surveyed included National Book Foundation (NBF), Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu Pakistan, National Academy of Letters, Mahmud Hussain Library—University of Karachi, Liaquat Memorial Library, Taimuria Library and State Bank Library.

Among these, the greatest amount of effort to encourage readership and provide low-priced books to students, researchers and general readers is made by the National Book Foundation. NBF holds book fairs regularly in different parts of the country such as the Karachi International Book Fair organised in collaboration with Pakistan Publishers and Book Sellers Association. NBF also participates in book fairs abroad like Frankfurt International Book Fair. Another interesting initiative of NBF in this regard is the Readers Club Scheme whereby members are able to purchase books at half price from a panel of booksellers who are collaborating with NBF in this scheme. The remaining balance on the price of a book is paid by NBF.

In addition to this, NBF is popular for providing low-priced additions of foreign books that may not be affordable at their original rates. Such low priced editions of textbooks are most helpful to students. They also supply books to different libraries and publish and distribute Braille publications for free to the visually handicapped.

The NBF also takes a number of steps to encourage authorship and publishing in the country by holding activities like Children’s Writers Conference which was held in September 2007; Writers Competition where writers have the chance of winning cash prizes as well as the opportunity to have their books published; Authors Resource Centre which was inaugurated in August 2007 providing authors with state-of-the-art facilities and a comfortable atmosphere to aid them in their creative works; National Textbook and Learning Materials Policy Plan of Action providing a level playing field and competitive environment for private sector publishers to produce quality textbooks.

Furthermore, contrary to many publishers’ complaints that the government is doing nothing to combat piracy and protect copyrights, the NBF has recently initiated a Copyrights Campaign jointly with Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan and Pakistan National Commission for UNESCO to spread awareness of intellectual property rights.

And government efforts also extend to those steps taken to encourage research publishing and publishing particularly in Urdu and in regional languages as well. Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu is one such organisation working to promote publishing in the Urdu language. It publishes research related books on the Urdu language for free without charging authors. University PhD and M.Phil papers that come up to a certain standard are also published by this organisation at its own expense. It also translates various works in regional languages to Urdu. Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu which comes under the Government of Sindh and the City District Government of Karachi, has a well-maintained library which was originally established by Maulvi Abdul Haq in pre-partitioned India, the contents of which were later brought to Pakistan after Independence.

Organisations like the National Academy of Letters also take a number of steps to promote readership and publishing by holding book fairs and publishing books of renowned Pakistani writers.

Government funded libraries like Liaquat Memorial Library, State Bank Library, Taimuria Library and Mahmud Hussain Library provide a great service to the reading population of the city by providing membership and consequent access to books at little or no membership fee. In a country where the price of good books is skyrocketing and is out of the reach of the common man, such libraries serve an indispensable function of quenching the thirst of a knowledge-thirsty population.

However, the situation is far from perfect. There is much more that needs to be done by the government before Pakistan can even try and compete on the international level. “To improve the publishing industry, the government must firstly remove or lower import duty on paper, books and printing material,” says Mr. Mazhar Hussain of Oxford University Press. The high import duty on paper raises the prices of books making them unaffordable to the common man.

The government must also develop a system to make sure that funds allocated to government organisations are put to proper use. “The government has allocated sufficient funds to organisations such as Anjuman-e-Taraqiy-e-Urdu and National Academy of Letters,” says Mr. Mairaj Janu of Bazm-e-Takhliq-e-Adab. “However, these funds are not utilised correctly.”

Moreover, the government must increase the budget it allocates to the publishing and book sector. “The government should increase funds,” proposes Mrs. Irshad Abbasi Resident Director of NBF. “The budget is very low. It is not even enough to fulfill the needs of publication.”

The government must set up institutions to examine and provide solutions to the problems of the publishing industry and facilitate more production by subsidizing production. It must also formulate such policies that attract private entrepreneurs to the publishing industry, improve the services of provincial textbook boards and improve and increase libraries providing membership for free or at a minimal fee.

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