Publishing newsletter, 27 Feb 2017
Recently Amazon India has been adding an “Import Deposit Fee” on to the imported books bought off its website.
When AmazonGlobal products are shipped to eligible countries, an estimate of the Import Fees will be levied on the items in your order for shipment to countries outside of the U.S. … The Import Fees Deposit is an estimation of the taxes and duties that may apply and isn’t an actual calculation. Customs regulations and tax rates applicable to certain goods may change between the date the taxes and duties were estimated and the applicable taxes and duties on the date of import into the destination country. The duty or tax rate is often determined by the classification of a good, which varies by country and region.
But books in India are not taxed nor does anyone have pay an import duty for bringing books into the country. So I am baffled by Amazon India levying this charge on to its customers who buy books? It will increase the final bill considerably. Increasingly regular Amazon clients, including Amazon Prime, are shifting to buying second-hand books on the premise that new books too are becoming more expensive to afford and these extra duties to be paid by customers will only further hamper online sales of books. Shouldn’t all stakeholders who are a crucial part of the publishing ecosystem strive for best practices or is that too idealistic a notion to hope for?
India is a price sensitive market for all goods and commodities but when it comes to books Indians think twice before spending. This is apparent by the flourishing trade in second-hand, pirated books and buying books by the kilo as is visible in local markets, pavements, railway stations and at crossroads. Some writers even consider it a backhanded compliment if they spot pirated versions of their books at any of these vendors. These books are sold at very low (read affordable) prices where the paper, binding and at times even printing is of poor quality but at least the text is easily available. These are exactly the characteristics which determine the pulp fiction market too – facts pointed about academic Awanish Kumar while discussing the Hindi writer late Ved Prakash Sharma and pulp fiction. Another socio-economic indicator which distinguishes between pulp-fiction and mainstream publishing is the very real social differences of class, as Mrinal Pande, noted journalist and daughter of renowned Hindi novelist Shivani, pointed out some years ago.
The two distinct strata of publishing co-existing within the local ecosystem is bound to have interesting consequences. It is already discernable with English publishing firms rapidly making provision for popular Hindi pulp fiction on their translation lists – good editorial move but underpinning it is sound economic sense to give readers what they are already familiar with. So instead of cogitating about piracy being 25% of the total Indian publishing industry probably the publishing professionals need to focus on getting great books to readers at the right price points. (And piracy or giving books away for free does not damage the sales of a book instead it boosts them as pointed out by Joanna Penn.)
Oh well! It is a conundrum not easily resolved to all stake holders’ satisfaction.
Having said that the engagement between writers and readers is thriving as evident by the huge success of the Urdu Literature Festival, Jashn-e-Rekhta, organised in Delhi. For more read the links on publishing gupshup and literary prizes.
Maha Khan Phillips Curse of Mohenjodaro
Omar Saif Ghobadan’s Letters to a Young Muslim