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Islamic publishing suffers from outdated modes
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Islamic publishing is losing its sheen. Publishers are in a depressed mood. They say there are no buyers for their books and it is just a fight for survival. 

The trend is just opposite the overall trend in the Indian publishing sector. The publishing industry has gone through a total metamorphosis during the last decade from what it used to be. 

It has been rightly stated that the publishing business had not changed as much in the last 100 years as it did in those ten years. The eighties marked a new high in publishing. Though it also meant that there was a fight for survival, but this helped the industry improve itself and be more competitive. It also meant increasing benefits for the readers. Developments in the publishing industry have ramifications all over the world, including India. 

Whoever said that publishing was doomed to die a slow death with the advent of the Internet, was never more wrong than in the twenty-first century. With increasing Web-penetration, the publishing sector instead of going downhill is getting a boost. Instead of harming its interests, Internet has benefitted publishing. 

But all these things seem to have left untouched the publishers of Islamic books. They are finding themselves in a dilemma of their own making. Though the number of players in the field has multiplied manifold, sales have not been able to go up in the same proportion - eating into the already wafer-thin profit margins of these publishers. 

What has affected the industry most is the fact that unlike their counterparts in other fields, they are not able to enjoy the economy of scale. And to add to their woes, they have to keep the prices of their books at the rock bottom level. People who are not ready to buy books at cheap rates will not show up at all if there are price hikes. 

There are just a couple of publishers in the industry who enjoy economy of scale, otherwise, most publishers are not able to sell their books beyond a few hundred copies. A handful others manage to get past a few thousands. And don’t ask for second or third editions. 

Hasanul Banna of Maktaba Ihyay-e Deen says that it is just a fight for survival. He adds that ‘there are no incentives for publishers of Islamic books. It is just a question of survival and that too is a losing battle.’ 

Mohammad Talha of Al-Balagh Publications also looks disheartened. He says that ‘most of the books are published in small numbers. This reduces the profit margins of the publishers and sometimes, he is not able to even recover his investment.’

Publishing in the modern world has become very high-tuned. It needs big time investment and a very good distribution network. Modern publishers have gone into a marketing overdrive. Books today have become commodities like soap and toothpaste. Earlier there was not much stress on advertisement and putting a good distribution network in place. Direct marketing would be aimed at the academic community and school and university libraries. Some efforts would be made so that scholarly journals would take note of the book and all hopes would be pinned on the book being taken note of by scholars and finding place in footnotes of future books.

But things have changed a lot. Now elaborate launch parties, hectic author tours, advertisement campaigns and fliers are undertaken to promote a book. There is also a sort of war among leading publishers to secure prominent display in bookstores. To top it all a pre-publication hype is also resorted to by publishers. 

These things are in total contrast to what happens in case of Islamic publishers. There is no planned launch of books. Books are published on ‘as is where is’ basis and no marketing wisdom is taken into account before publishing a book. Had there not been demand for certain type of books many a publishers would have wrapped up long ago. 

There are some publishers, like Markazi Maktaba Islami, who of late have tried to give some thought to expanding their marketing network. Now it has several sub-depots in different parts of the country. Most of others have nothing of that sort too. 

Now these publishing houses, already in depleted condition, are facing a growing menace of piracy. For making quick bucks some unscrupulous people are resorting to piracy and publishing without any right, titles which are in demand. This in not only eating into the profits of the already broke publishers but also affecting their confidence. Markazi Maktaba has made several threats to pirates who have published its titles, and are marketing those titles in far off areas. But this murky business continues unabated.

Muslim publishers, working in their nineteenth-century business environment do not seem to be even familiar with anti-piracy laws that are in place. Though this has reached a menacing high but there is no case where an aggrieved party approached a court on the issue. 

A recent and welcoming development in the Islamic book publishing industry is the much needed improvement in printing and layout designing of their publications. It is a great development given the fact that earlier books were poorly presented, in unattractive attire and there was nothing called designing. Now leading publishers in this industry too are trying to present books in upmarket manner with colour and even on art paper. Good Word is setting trends in this field and has surpassed even big publishing houses.

But this is all. Islamic publishing is trailing miserably behind its modern peers. It is still in a shell of its own. Two Urdu book fairs organized by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, that tried to give some teeth to this publishing industry have proved total flop, further dampening spirits. The industry needs a total overhaul. To begin with it will have to set in place a good distribution and advertising network in the country.

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