Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Some questions in response to the poetic soliloquy by IP lawyers towards the protest by Indian publishers against allowing parallel imports of books: Vinutha Mallya, Mapin India (2m : copyright law)

This is the link: http://originalfakes.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/in-praise-of-folly/

Some questions for Messers Prashant etc from an overworked editor (and forgive me for keeping it simple, and not confusing issues with jargon and legalese):

“Examples are legion. In the publishing empire’s impoverished imagination, with every amendment that has loosened the stranglehold of copyright law, and enlarged the rights of the reading public, the Wheels of Civilization, no less, have ground creakingly to a Final Halt. In over 400 years, this iron template hasn’t altered even marginally, and still continues to plague us to this day with its oppressive banality.”

Q: Poetic and romantic as you sound, could you please illuminate us with these examples that are “legion”? Do you actually mean to say that publishing has thrived around the world without any concern for the people that they publish for? Then by your own free market logic, the industry should have died a death a long time ago. Or did we all sit and conspire to hoodwink our readers by imagining the costs of producing a book and adding a margin of profit to be able to pay bills and work on more books?
“Thomas then proceeds to issue some disinformation about how the Indian publishing industry “is just about coming into its own in the past few ten years or so”. (As any serious student of Indian publishing would know, India has been, at least since the late 19th century, home to the most thriving, profitable low-cost print publishing industries anywhere in the world.)”

Q: Can you please prove otherwise with some “information” from your end? I wonder how you could, when you happily support piracy just a few lines below?

 “If street piracy and second-hand sales had been killed off twenty years ago in India, the market for English books in India would not have expanded at all.”

Q: If publishers did not publish, what pray would the pirates pirate? And, who, would pay the bills of the poor author that worked on the manuscript and the editor who worked with her, and the designer who composed the book, had it not been the publisher who put the money in to fund these activities including paying the printer? The pirate on the street? Or you, who felt so grand about thumbing a nose at the publisher?

“As I have written elsewhere, I owe my education in English entirely to low-cost editions of books bought from pirate street vendors or less-frequently at second hand bookstores (who typically would stock books imported from overseas library sales).”

Q: So do many of us. How many new Indian authors were available to you to read in these pirated editions? I can’t recall any except perhaps Rushdie and Roy. Or were you just happy reading the classics circulated over the years? How do you think those publishers, when they discovered and published these authors back in the day, survived to be able to continue publishing the books that centuries or decades later could appear as a pirate edition on the streets of India?
“Chiefly the gratuitous disparagement of intellectual production in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, (allegedly these countries cannot claim even a single “literary or commercial author brand” between them!) and the chastisement of India on account of the fact that “mature markets” don’t have analogous provisions on parallel import as we are trying to introduce.”

Q: It is a fact. Please dispute it with any other facts. Can you name any author from Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong that was discovered in their own countries and then became international? Without checking the internet, have you heard of any authors from these countries? Have you ever visited a bookshop in these countries to see the number of books published locally and the proportion of those imported from Australia and the UK? I have lived in Malaysia and can assure you that there is no “gratuitous disparagement” in that statement by Mr Thomas.

“Then, as now, the issue was about incumbent interests in the heart of Empire – the London Booksellers – trying to preserve their dominions against upstart native enterprise in the colonies (in the 17th century, the Irish, Scots and Indians were regarded, alike, as barbarians – See Henry Maine etc) to the detriment of the reading public.”

Q: Sorry to disappoint you while you make this ridiculous comparison which erases the developments that have taken place in publishing since the 18th century. Recommend that you read ‘Print Areas: Book History in India’ for some examples of how Indian publishers had fought to be recognised as a separate territory and not remain a colonial outpost. That fight continued post Independence. The contribution of what we know as “multinational publishers” in independent India is immense and to belittle it is to deny a historical fact. I say this as a representative of an “independent” publishing house.

“The parallel import clause passes into copyright law, and an entire business model is spawned which focuses on providing access to books through parallel import. Since books tend, almost as a rule, to be much more expensive abroad, it would not make economic sense (there would be no incentive!) to import books where low-priced editions are already published in India. This will force more foreign publishers to aggressively publish low-priced editions in India – thus leading to a further expansion of the Indian publishing industry, and benefiting the Indian reader with access to wider material.”

Q: How did you come up with this stroke of genius? Let us examine another scenario: If parallel import clause comes in, foreign publishers will not give licenses for Indian editions; why should they? That itself will put a lot of publishers out of work and give them no investment to consider a publishing programme where they can license foreign editions and continue to publish Indian authors. Foreign publishers will wait until their markets are exhausted and then invest in shipping the books at lower prices to India. Secondly, foreign publishers, can, under the current export law, outsource printing to India, and retain a percentage for sale in India through the distributors. The billing is done in foreign currency. Sure you want to encourage this? Good for printers and distributors certainly, but ask them whether this is good for long term business. More importantly, would foreign publishers come looking for authors, spend time and effort on Indian authors, when they would just be happy to offload their books here, thanks to this law?

 “Why don’t we have a law that statutorily prescribes a minimum royalty of say 50% of the price of the book? Wouldn’t that benefit the struggling author? Currently, the global average royalty an author receives is rarely over a measly 8-10%.”

Q: Million dollar question and an age-old one, but that would mean a book will end up costing atleast 5 times more. The author is the face of the book, so who cares what goes on behind the scenes? Consider this: The author send pages of a manuscript (handwritten, typed in MS Word) to a publishing house and it magically becomes a book! No editor needed to work on it, no designer needed to typeset it and no effort put in by the publisher at all, no salaries to pay, no printer waiting for a payment and no overheads to maintain! And importantly, no 50% industry-standard discounts for wholesalers and distributors. La-la land galore! Seriously, shall I call the pirate on the street to come pay my electricity bill? And you call me simple? Any good author will tell you how much they owe the final book to their editors/designers/publishers. Even today, when everybody with a keyboard is a writer and anybody with a WordPress blog is a publisher with an outlet for his/her vanity, what publishers do is vital.

India had 19% literacy at the time of Independence. Today it is 65%. The market for books is undoubtedly growing, but we are not yet a fully mature market. We are taking giant strides and publishers have a huge role to play. Do you really want foreign publishers to tell us what we should be reading? If this amendment goes through it will be at the cost of Indian publishing. The only people who will go happily into the sunset would be foreign publishers and Indian wholesalers. There is no Bill Gates among publishers who is rolling in millions as yet, contrary to what you have made it sound.


  1. Hi Divya,

    Thanks for providing a forum. Fascinating debate. One suggestion. How about adding a Facebook Like button to the posts? It'll make it easier to spread.

    Anil Menon

  2. Witty and hits the nail on the head.

  3. My response to Rahul Matthan was posted on the IE site, but has been awaiting moderation for over 24 hours; thought I'd paste it here as well:

    If publishing was as profitable and we were all merely being protectionist, please do find me a publisher rolling in millions in India today. ...
    What we do is important, not entertainment. Remaindered books of non-Indian editions are routinely dumped into the Indian market. Walk into any retail chain store and see the overload of such books, or go to the "book fairs" in smaller cities and see the kind of books available and compare. The knowledge crusaders and IP lawyers have unfortunately not made an effort to understand the publishing industry, but have instead resorted to theoretical and rhetorical positions. Sit with a publisher and let them explain all the scenarios, and if you still disagree, then we will have something to talk about. Publishers don't publish books for consumers, we publish them for readers. Our market is more challenging than those of a textile trader's. Everybody needs clothes, but they think they can do without books in our country.

  4. Thank you, everyone.

    @Anil, you can post the link on fb too. The blog's already a part of 'networked blogs' on it.

  5. Dear Divya,
    I'd like to clarify that I did not write that piece, Prashant did. Please change that bit in Vinutha's piece.

    - Pranesh

  6. Dear Pranesh, the blog listed both of you as authors of the blog, hence the reference to both names. Will amend and request Divya to as well.

  7. @Vinutha: Brilliant piece and a worthy rebuttal and will certainly take away from the lawyers arsenal against the supposedly millionaire MNC publishers in India.This act will impoverish authors, editors, designers, publishers and make rich wholesale dealers and unscrupulous remainder sellers. Why would any govt, supposedly voted in to take care of their citizens, pass such a law?Will it provide me with a viable alternative career after I have invested a decade of my life in it?

  8. Has anybody realised that Mr Kapil Sibal's constituency is Chandni Chowk, home of the country's largest remainder dealers.

  9. Perhaps that's why! Getting books at remainder prices would be an attraction for anyone -- but it's bad for the industry.