Monday, 28 March, 2011

The parallel importation of books amendment

Democracy at work


At the time of the Jaipur Literary Festival in January, there was a rash of articles in the English dailies that enlisted leading publishing luminaries in decrying an Amendment to the Copyright Act that will likely be enacted in the current budget session of parliament. Frankly the rash of articles where  journalists suddenly became very knowledgeable, and publishers and authors very adamant, smelled like clever spoonfed journalism. This is a type of article that appears in several papers with the same outrage caused by a company or group or association doing a bit of strong PR or waging a campaign in order to use the power of the English language press in the capital to influence seemingly unwitting members of parliament on a fairly obscure subject.

Of course these articles were written without finding out or describing the offending amendment or bothering to find out if there was another side to the story. But weekends are a good time to get such stories into the dailies since our editors are even more asleep, and desperate for a live story with a byline and quotes from literary personalities.

In our print issue dated March 2011 we have published a debate where both exponents (bloggers in this case) say that there has not been adequate discussion and consultation on this subject. We concur, although we do not think that the Federation of Indian Publishers or the Association of Publishers in India or the Authors Guild are innocent in this matter. Associations in our country rarely discuss anything transparently with their constituents, let alone with each other, or their common constituencies — in this case the reading and book buying public. (Not to speak of authors and editors).


The Indian book market is large and in fact threatening to become huge. This phenomenal growth in the creation, production and consumption of content and books is impinged by technology allowing both easier and more transparent trade. The content and publishing industry will eventually have to reckon with electronic publishing and eBooks and eContent. The amendment on parallel importation of books threatens the territorial monopolies of some of the large publishers. It especially seems threatening to the English language multinational publishers. As Shalini has pointed out in her Alphageria column in the same issue, the Indian textbook market is itself worth US$ 2 billion.

During the Globalocal event in Delhi in November 2010, we asked the international publishers’ of English books, why there were separate publishing rights for Canada, Australia, India, the United States and Europe and we also asked them how long would this last in an eBooks world without borders. The answer given by Emma House representing the Publishers Association was, to say the least, a bit ingenuous. She said that the current system may last another 25 years and that if it was changed it would threaten the availability of inexpensive English language textbooks that are exported to India.

It is increasingly becoming apparent that the large international text book publishers are in fact generating original content in India for use around the world. This, coupled with the excellent and competitive book manufacturing capabilities of our printers, means that this is an important and interesting discussion. In a democracy there is an opportunity for us (however difficult and onerous) to create and shape the future. Serious publishers and printers need to talk more regularly and sensibly to each other and not merely leave it to their associations. Especially when the associations of the multinational publishers are far more media savvy.

March 23, 2011 | By Naresh Khanna 

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