Friday, June 15, 2007

Publishing in Pakistan: Insightful Statistics about the Culture of Learning and Scholarship in Pakistan

ARTICLE: Writing and selling books in Pakistan
By Khawaja Mustafa: Dawn, June 10, 2007

Authoring a book is an intellectual and scholarly pursuit. Authors not only contribute enormously to the development of society as a whole, but also towards the artistic, cultural, literary and historical constituents of a society. Books play a significant role in the social and economic uplift of people. They define and redefine the national psyche and sentiment while reinforcing a sense of belongingness to one’s land, history and culture, inculcating a universal sense of collectivism and national ethos. They provide insightful knowledge regarding anything and everything under the sun.

Considering the power of the written word, authors belonging to developed countries are remunerated suitably well for their writing, however, with the exception of a few very well-known and widely-read authors, writers in our country are not paid adequately.

Dr Jalaluddin Haider, in his article titled ‘Book trade in Pakistan’, has described the plight of Pakistani authors. He writes, “In our country, there is no cencept of a proper patronage for authors. Most of the written work remains unpublished for the publishers do not anticipate immediate returns and are not prepared to risk a long term investment. As a result, authors are discouraged. Even those who somehow manage to get their works published through their efforts have to undergo innumerable hardships such as running after printers, booksellers, and libraries to print, sell and house their works. Aiming to encourage the growth of literary output, literary prizes are sponsored by various commercial organisations in various genres and disciplines. But the efforts are not sufficient enough for stimulating a greater writing activity on a wider range of subjects”.

Due to the depleted literacy rate of our rural as well as urban population and a range of social, cultural and economic reasons; a general lack of interest towards book reading prevails.

Ibrahim Saad writes in his book, Reader on Book Publishing in Pakistan (1994), “the annual number of titles published ranges from 2,000 to 2,500 … textbooks aside, the print run in 90 per cent of the cases still ranges between 500 and 2,000, with 1,000 as the standard ... about 60 per cent publishing is being done in Urdu ... English Language publishing accounts for 25 per cent, and the rest is divided among regional languages. The most authentic list of books published in the country is the Pakistan National Bibliography (PNB). Mr Rais Ahmed Samdani, who had earlier conducted an analysis of the PNB for the years 1986 and 1987, says that the total number of books listed in the PNB for these two years were 860 and 765 respectively.

Having myself analysed the Pakistan National Bibliography (PNB) for five years (2001-2005), I reached the conclusion that an average of 1,200 titles were published annually in Pakistan during a period of five years and a total 6,113 books were published: year 2001 (1655 titles), 2002 (1522 titles), 2003 (828 titles), 2004 (1072 titles) and 2005 (1036 titles).

Sixty-seven per cent books were published in our national language, Urdu; 29 per cent in English and four per cent in regional languages. The reason behind the minimal number of regional language books may be that regional publishers do not send complimentary copies to the National Library of Pakistan due to the shortage of printing material and the low quality of books. Thus their books are not listed in the PNB.

Summary of Subjects

Islamic topics and themes are a favourite category among Pakistani authors. The Main subjects in this category are: Quran — translation, commentary, Quranic injunctions (206), Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) (168), Islamic fiqah (122), Islamic economy (24), Islamic way of life; Ethics (48), Islamic beliefs (59), Sacred readings (Dua, Amaliat) (62), Islamic sects (31), Shia literature (26), Qadyanis (40), Jihad (15), Sufism (93), Islam and family planning (2), Islam and women (25) and Islam and marriage (21).

Literature is the second most favoured category with 23.86 per cent books. Some 1,459 books were published in the literature category — Urdu literature 1,117 books; some major subjects were 537 Urdu poetry books, 122 Urdu novels, 59 short stories or afsanay, 80 children’s stories, 58 books on Iqbal and Iqbaliat, and 21 books on Ghalib and Ghalibiat.

English Literature totaled 82 books including: English poetry-Pakistani (15), English poetry (23), English fiction (17), English short stories (6).

The third major category of books are on topics related to Pakistan. These amount to a 19.87 per cent. The 1,215 published books accounted to 19.8 per cent of the total number of books published during the period. The main subjects in this category are: Pakistani women (44), Kashmir (35), Politics and government (102), Law, Legislation and justice (42), Human Rights (15), Population, Family Planning (34), Culture and civilisation (18), Pakistani Children (14), History of Pakistan and the Freedom Movement (51), Foreign policy (23), Indo-Pak relations (10), Labour, Human resources (17), Natural resources including water (20), Energy resources (7), Telecommunications (19), Fine arts in Pakistan (10), Agriculture, Forestry, Livestock (93), Pakistan’s economy (51), Social work, NGOs (28), Health and health policy (20), Child labour (3), Child abuse (4), Environmental policy (9), Crimes (10), Education-study and teaching including textbooks (132).

The fourth major category of authorship is history. This includes biographies and travelogues. Some 657 (10.74 per cent) books were published in this category.

Books published on languages and linguistics amounted to 184. These included 44 books on English as a language, most of them being elementary and secondary level books.

There were some 288 books on science including those on health sciences, engineering and technology. It is important to note that the books published in this category are usually for elementary, secondary or undergraduate level. They are not meant for researchers. Only 73 books on social sciences were published, which shows a lack of interest in universal subjects such as economics, sociology, commerce, law and education.

There is a serious shortage of authorship in humanities — philosophy, psychology, logic and ethics. The subjects never gained ground in our country probably due to our social milieu that derives its rationality more from religion and history, than from humanities. Only 19 books (0.31 per cent) were published in this category.

Authors and writers are the thinkers and intelligentsia of a nation. The recent trends in our publishing industry can be summed up by saying that Pakistani authors are fervently oriented towards religious penmanship, with an imbued focus on deep-rooted national ethos, culture and politics, along with a romantic awareness of tradition. The social and cultural conflicts within a society provide an ideal environment for the writers’ sensitive minds. Their discontentedness with the situation gives way to expression, creating literary masterpieces, with poetry being the most popular form of literary expression. On the other hand, ignorance in producing serious writings in the continually advancing fields of science and technology is quite clear. Social sciences and humanities too have failed to gather the due attention of our local writers. Their interest in religious writings and politics, governmental structure and functioning amounts to about 50 per cent of the total intellectual output. The remaining 40 per cent intellect is covered by literature and history, whereas science and technology carries less than five per cent consideration.

With a few exceptions, books published in Pakistan are mostly read and used within the country as they are generally unable to find an international readership. Usually the books are published in quantities of around 500 to 1,000 copies. The gap felt by teachers, students and researchers in the science and technology genre is being filled by imported books — most commonly through pirated copies.

But for the advancement of science, technology, social sciences, humanities, fine arts and other weak sections of the book publishing industry in our country, government-provided loans and funds could contribute a great deal. There is a dire need to offer funds and support to school, college and public libraries so that local publications are introduced to our younger generation and the general public. This will also provide the publishers with an improved and enhanced market.

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