Aziz Khalid, president of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, recalls the day an Indian publisher shared with him an observation.
“We were sitting outside the venue of the Pakistan International Book Fair and a family walked up the stairs.
The son asked the mother how many books he could buy and the mother said as many as he wanted,” recalls Khalid, narrating how the Indian publisher then told him: “Congratulations.
If young mothers are convinced about buying books, you’ve won half the battle. We did this in Delhi and today there’s no looking back.”
Khalid says he’s now looking to Indian publishers for help of another kind. Instead of importing Indian books, and books on which Indian publishers have copyrights, he hopes Indian publishers will give Pakistani publishers the licence to reprint books.
“We’ll pay royalty, go after piracy and save our industry, which continues to suffer from low sales and poor quality.” Khalid says thousands of jobs are associated with the local publishing industry.
But copyright violations and lack of quality printing coupled with rising costs have driven the industry into a crisis.
“Some student organisations reprint entire books and give them to students, so that they become popular,” says Khalid.
In other instances, cheap reprints of popular books appear at bookstands while the police look the other way. Many of those books are copies of Indian publications, especially academic titles.
Khalid says Pakistani publishers have a lot to learn from their Indian counterparts. He recalls the 2006 Delhi Book Fair, when the PPBA took Urdu poet Ahmad Faraz and singer Tina Sani along — the Pakistani stall was an instant hit. But he admits Pakistan has much more to do in terms of writing and authors.
“We’re told the subjects that our fiction writers take up are outdated. There’s a shortage of new ideas, we lack creativity,” he laments.
As a consequence, Pakistani readers now look out of the country for books, especially for fiction.
Khalid wants to change all that but says that before anything else, books must be made cheaper and piracy must be contained.
For this, he wants help from both Indian publishers and the Pakistan government. “So far, we haven’t got anything,” he adds.