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Urdu book publishing - a field survey
By Abu Asim

Book publishing is not everybodyís cup of tea. Particularly, publishing and sale of Islamic books is a big challenge. And if it is in Urdu language, the job becomes more difficult. Most of the Urdu book publishers lament that their books are not being sold or that they are not getting the required profits.

Most of the publishers blame educational and financial conditions of the readers. And generally the books in Urdu are read by Muslims who are educationally and financially not well. Then what will be the condition of Urdu book industry? "Jaisa haal Musalmanon ka hai wahi haal Urdu book industry ka hai," answers Arif Iqbal, editor of Urdu Book Review, a journal on Urdu book publishing. Muhammad Tahir, manager of Islamic Book Service, shares this opinion. "When a man does not have enough food to fill his tummy how can he buy a book?," he says.

With the financial condition of a reader his interest and taste also matter in the sale of a book. Since Urdu books are generally read by Muslims, their low literacy and low standards of education also affect the Urdu book industry. Thatís why Syed Zafar Ali, publisher and general secretary of All India Federation of Urdu Book Publishers and Sellers, says that the behaviour of the Muslim readers should be blamed for the pathetic condition of the Urdu book industry. The general behaviour of the Urdu reader is that they read books on topics like Roza and Namaz or old-time fictions. The sale of standard books is pretty low.

In this situation what a publisher should do? If he invests a lot of money in publishing a book he will expect the desired return in proportion to the production costs. But it happens that the reader is not ready to pay the price of the book as books do not find a place in the list of priorities or he does not have enough money to spare for such luxury. 

Therefore these publishers search for shortcuts to success. They pick up books published in Pakistan, reprint them and sell them in the Indian market. In this way they have to spend only on the actual printing of the book. According to Arif Iqbal, no less than 95 per cent such publishers are using this kind of method. Another method is take an old book from the library and publish its facsimile. Urdu publishers in Pakistan too indulge in similar practices and Indian Urdu books are routinely pirated there.

But for all these evils readers alone should not be blamed. The standard and education of the publisher also play a big role in book publishing. It is seen that the general Urdu publisher is not well-educated. According to Arif Iqbal, a good number of publishers is barely able to sign cheques.

According to Syed Sajid Ali, proprietor of Adam Publishers and Distributors, before hitting the market a book should go through a certain process. The manuscript of the book should be sent to an expert who can asses the value of the book. He tells the publisher how original the content of the book is, if the topic is relevant in the current context, etc... Then the book is sent to an editor and thereafter it is typeset and sent to the proof readers. After that comes the turn of printing and distribution

Obviously, for these things a publishing house needs a strong infrastructure and it requires a lot of investment. Islamic or Urdu book publishers in general lack these facilities. There is no proper arrangement for editing, proof reading and distribution. There is also no proper arrangement for the promotion and advertisement of a book. 

No doubt the printing quality has improved due to modern printing advances but it is felt that the quality of writing has deteriorated. "Why our books are not sold like those of the popular writers in English?," asks Abdul Malik Fahim, proprietor of Maktaba Al-Hasanaat. "We donít have good writers. Books on relevant or interesting topics are rare," laments Zafar Ali. 

"But why should a good writer like Rafiq Zakaria and Asghar Ali Engineer go to these publishers?" asks Sajid Ali. Any good writer wants that his book is published in a decent way. He wants good layout, good printing and good publicity. And most important is the goodwill of the publishing house itself. The author also wants good review, adds Sajid Ali. But the problem is we have to send books on Islam to the Urdu or Muslim newspapers and ask them to publish reviews of the book. Now the newspapers face the problem due to their poor financial conditions. The reviewer demands a handsome amount for doing the review. Ultimately it happens that the required review fails to appear in these newspapers and magazines. So the gap between the reader and the publisher remains" said Sajid Ali. 

Earlier, books on Islam were published particularly in Urdu. Due to the decreasing Urdu readership in northern India publishers are concentrating on Southern regions. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are good regions for Urdu books. English books of these publishers find markets in Kerala and Karnataka etc. Unable to get good profit in India publishers are dependent on exports. In the words of a publisher if export is stopped our publishing will be reduced to ten per cent of its current meagre volume.

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