Liaquat National Library Periodicals in need of preservation

By Zubeida Mustafa

AFTER what one hears of the poor reading habits of Pakistanis and their lack of interest in books, one would expect a library to be a deserted place. But a casual visit to the Liaquat Memorial Library on Stadium Road should be enough to convince anyone that there are quite a few people in the city who do like to read. It can, however, be presumed that people read only if they can get books, newspapers and magazines conveniently and free of cost. Continue reading “Liaquat National Library Periodicals in need of preservation”

The author’s coin

By Zubeida Mustafa

A FACT which is not so widely known about Sweden is that it has the highest ratio of book titles published per thousand of the population in a year — nearly one title per thousand people. (West Germany, which is also a prolific publisher, produces one title per 1,500 people).

Although the Swedes are complaining that people no longer read as many books as before, the sales of books have been rising. You just have to visit a library in any Swedish city (there are 2,200 local public libraries all over the country) or a bookshop to see how popular books still are, especially with children.

How do writers fare in a society where 80 million copies of books are sold every year? What is quite clear is that Swedish writers are conscious of their rights and responsibilities and are prepared to struggle for them. Thus, in 1972 the Writers’ Union protested against low payments to writers and its members withdrew all their books from public libraries.

It was their awareness of being isolated from society which led a group of three Swedish Writers to set up the Writers’ Centre in Stockholm in 1967. Within a week, 200 writers — including the leading ones — had responded. Today the Forfattarcentrum (Swedish for Writers’ Centre) has a membership of 800, including two Turks, two Kurds and some Latin Americans. Any person who has written a book that has been published can become a member.

The aim of the centre when it was established was to help writers break out of their social isolation and bring them closer to society Today the centre is very active in providing its members contacts with the public which, on the one hand help them understand people and their problems, and on the other help create an awareness and appreciation in people of writers and their works.

Gun Qvarzell, a staff member at the centre, who is in charge of the programmes, told me about the activities the centre arranges. A poet might be invited to a school to recite his verses and explain his poetry to the children. A university might arrange a workshop in which some writers could be invited to participate. A writer might be a guest at a cultural week. Concerted campaigns by the Writers’ Centre have been instrumental in getting literary circles and libraries set up in hospitals, sanitoria and prisons.

Every day the centre receives at least four or five requests from various institutions for help in arranging a workshop or group discussion with a writer’s participation. Once a couple even telephoned asking the centre to arrange for a poem to be composed on the first birthday of their child. Their request was fulfilled!

The centre undertakes all kinds of projects which promote a happy relationship between the writers and the public. For instance, after office hours the centre’s telephone is fixed on taped poetry recitals by the poets themselves. Anyone can ring up to listen to these.

Gun Qvarzell feels that the centre has achieved its goal in that writers are today closer to society. Writers and poets have had the opportunity to explain their work to people who are ordinarily not in touch with them. This has created public interest in literature and sustained a dialogue between writers and the readers. But Gun is unhappy about what she calls barriers created by bureaucracy between writers and the public.

The Writers’ Centre, which now has four branches, has in its sixteen years of existence done much to improve the lot of the writers too. Thus, it has tried to give new writers a boost by introducing them to the public through its programme of contacts with schools, hospitals, libraries, bookshops, prisons and other institutions.

At its new premises on the island of Skeppsholmen overlooking the Saltsjon (Baltic), the Writers’ Centre has four furnished rooms with a kitchenette. At a very reasonable rate of SEK 600 a month a member can rent a room to work there. It is quite common in Sweden for writers to go into seclusion, away from their family and friends for a few weeks to finish their writing.

At the centre I met Elsa Steffen (aged 83 years) who has written six books. She was working on her seventh and had rented a room for a month to finish her work. She was in bed (obviously working) when I knocked the door at 4.30 in the afternoon. That was something unusual but then that is precisely the idea of moving into a separate apartment from your family — you don’t have to bother about routines and schedules and can get along with your work. Gun Qvarzell, who also edits a quarterly magazine on children’s literature, told me that writers in Sweden have been protesting against the high taxes they have to pay on their incomes. Although few writers can earn a living from their writings, Swedish authors are relatively well off compared with their counterparts in many other countries, mainly because of their trade union type efforts.

Authors’ union

Swedish writers first organised themselves into a union called the Swedish Authors’ Association (Sveriges Forfattar-eforening) in 1893 on the initiative of Verner Von Heidenstam, who later won the Nobel Prize for his poetry. Thereafter the Swedish Union of Authors was set up. Through organised efforts the writers could improve their situation by persuading the government to take important measures.

Two of these I find quite interesting and with the exception of the Scandinavian region, I don’t know of any other country where the writers enjoy similar facilities. Under the terms of standard contract an author in Sweden is entitled to 16-2/3 per cent royalty on the retail price of his book. As soon as a manuscript has been accepted, the publisher must pay a guarantee equal to at least one-third of the royalty on the first edition. This advance is deducted from the payment that subsequently falls due. But it does not have to be repaid by the author, if his book does not sell.

Another fascinating feature of Sweden’s literary life is the Library Loan Compensation which was introduced in 1954. The concept underlying this scheme is that the government must compensate the author for books borrowed from public libraries. The government pays compensation at the rate of 37 ore (100 ore is equal to 1 SEK) per loan. Of this sum, 22 ore goes to the author whose book has been borrowed upto a miximum of 100,000 loans in the form of the “author’s coin”.

After the first stage, a writer, receives only 11 ore per borrowing. This sum progressively decreases with the number of loans. The part of the compensation not paid to the writer goes to the Swedish Author’s Fund. Administered by a board of 14 member (four appointed by the government and the remaining the nominees of the authors), the Fund seeks to create a system of security for writers. Thus 180 qualified authors, translators, and illustrators are guaranteed SEK 48,000 per year, irrespective of the number of loans of their books.

Younger writers are given longterm grants.^Awards, pensions and travel grants are given from the Fund. In 1983-84, the Library Loan Compensation amounted to SEK 40 million. Of this SEK 28 million was transferred to the Fund.

How much can a writer earn under this system? Gun Qvarzell disclosed that Sweden’s leading writer of children’s books, Astrid Lindgren, earned SEK 2 million jn 1983. That is a big amount even by Swedish standards but of course the taxes are heavy

Source: Dawn 6 June 1984

Why are our students not avid readers?

By Zubeida Mustafa

SOME students were once asked why they read books — that is books other than their course books. Their answers were quite varied: to kill time; to increase their knowledge; because they were asked to do so by their teacher; to fulfil their social needs; to develop their personalities. Very few said that they read for pleasure. When young people are not reading books voluntarily or because they derive a sense of satisfaction from it, it is not strange that they are not forming life-long reading habits.

Obviously when a person feels under a compulsion or pressure to read, he will abandon is books as soon as he no longer feels the need for them. While a number of young people are reading books as a duty, there are a number of others who are not reading at all, their prescribed texts excepted.

A National Book Council survey conducted in 1981 found that 20 per cent of the students questioned said that they did not like to read. Even those who read, devoted most of the Continue reading “Why are our students not avid readers?”

Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy

By Zubeida Mustafa

IT IS now eighteen months that computerised Urdu nastaliq calligraphy has been in use in the country but it has yet to produce the impact on Urdu printing it could have been expected to. Only one machine is currently being used in Pakistan to bring out an Urdu daily from Lahore.

Why this delay in response? Not that the inventor, Mr Ahmed Mirza Jamil, has not Continue reading “Slow acceptance of a major breakthrough: Computerised calligraphy”

Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE TWO major problems facing the printing industry in Pakistan are the high cost of production and the poor quality of service provided. Identifying these two factors which determine the state of the industry today, Mr Ahmad Mirza Jamil, the outgoing Chairman of the Pakistan Association of Printing and Graphic Arts Industry (PAPGAI), points out that if the industry is surviving in the country it is because printers are operating in a seller’s market. The dismally low literacy rate, the poor reading habits of the people and the scarcity of low-priced books and literature are key indicators of the state of the publishing and printing industries in Pakistan.It is not surprising to find these industries in a poor state.

In a society where education is at a discount, the elements which go into the making of education also tend to be ignored. As compared with the publishing sector, printing is better off because it caters to multifarious needs other than those of the publishers and stationers. The printer gets a substantial part of his business from the orders he receives for the printing of labels, cartons, pharmaceutical literature (which the majority of consumers cannot read), invitation and greeting cards and calendars. There is urgent need to look into the problems of the printing industry not only to promote the cause of education and literacy. But also because printing is one of the major industries in the country.

According to Mr Jamil, it employs nearly 300,000 people and is the second largest industry in terms of manpower employment after textiles. In Karachi alone there are some 3,000 printing units. If nothing else, the size of the industry itself warrants that it be given due attention.

 A service industry

Printing is essentially a service industry, says Mr Mirza Jamil. But unlike other services, nearly 70 to 85 per cent of the sales proceed go towards meeting the cost of raw material. Hence it is difficult for a printer to reduce costs unless he is provided paper, ink, box board, graphic films and other such items at lower prices.

Mr Jamil feels that the government’s policies have not been very helpful in this respect. Import duties and sales tax on the raw material used in printing are exorbitantly high and, with the gradual appreciation of foreign currencies vis-a-vis the Pakistani rupee after its delinking from the dollar, the landed cost of imported machinery, paper and other raw material, as also the duties and taxes levied have shot up immensely.

Giving a few instances, Mr Jamil points out that in June 1981, the import duty on printer’s ink was 40 per cent on the c&f value. Over and above this there was a sales tax of 10 per cent which meant an actual tax of 54 per cent on the c&f value. In January 1982 the sales tax stood at 20 per cent and an import surcharge of 5 per cent had also been imposed. As a result the actual taxes went up to 73 per cent on the c&f value.

Tax burden

 In January 1983 a year after the delinking of the rupee when a dollar was valued at Rs 13, the duties and taxes on ink in effect amounted to 95 per cent on the c&f value as it was in January 1982 — an increase of 76 per cent over the June 1981 rates. Board grey on which there is an import duty of 50 per cent, a sales tax of 10 per cent and a surcharge of 5 per cent, now yields revenues amounting to 91 per cent of its cost in June 1981. The taxes on machinery and spare parts amount to 76.7 per cent, on graphic films to 58.5 per cent on printing plates to 76.7 per cent and on paper board to 46- 120 per cent depending on the c&f price of paper. In view of the fact that the cost of paper alone makes up a substantial part of the cost of the finished product (70 per cent in the case of books), the heavy imports on this item used in printing has not helped the cause of the industry.

We have been retrogressing. In the early fifties, printing machines could be imported free of import duties. Today they carry an import duty of 40 per cent, a sales tax of 10 per cent and a surcharge of 5 per cent. Under present conditions, the local manufacture of raw material for the printing industry also has not helped. Thus 75 per cent of the printing ink used in the country is locally manufactured and it is given preference because it is readily available. But it is more expensive than the imported stuff because the import duty, sales tax and excise duty on the ingredients of the locally manufactured ink are so high that it costs more than the imported ink.

Similarly, the locally produced paper is unsatisfactory in quality and in spite of the heavy duty on imported paper, the local paper cannot really compete in price with the imported one.

 A damaging device

A damaging move taken by the Government was the imposition of sales tax on some d products in June 1981. This was done through the device of rescinding the Government notification of June 1951 which dealt with sales tax exemption. A new notification was issued which listed a few items such as account books, exercise books, maps, charts, stationery, cartons and calendars on which exemption was to be granted. All other goods were subject to sales tax. Since all the raw material used by the industry is already subjected to sales tax, such tax on the finished product virtually amounts to double taxation.

Mr Jamil notes that it is next to impossible for the printing industry to claim refund of sales tax, since the evidence of the sales tax paid on the raw material cannot be produced. Few printers import their own raw material. On a representation made by PAPGAI in October 1982, however, the government agreed to maintain the status quo in the matter of sales tax on finished products until a final decision is taken.

Mr Jamil hopes that the 1981 notification will be withdrawn. The other problem faced by the industry is the absence of quality. This Mr Mirza Jamil feels is to be attributed primarily to the scarcity of trained personnel and the absence of competition. Although services account for barely 15 to 30 per cent of the cost of printing, it is the key factor in determining the quality of the finished product.

Training in skills

 Mr Jamil compares the printing technician to the artist. Just as the quality of an artist’s drawing can either enhance the worth of a piece of paper or reduce it to scrap, similarly the printer’s skill determines the worth of a printed piece of paper. And yet Pakistan has no up-to-date training school for printers. The only facility available is at Lahore, but here Mr Jamil complains obsolete machinery is used to train students in outdated techniques.

Repeated representation by PAPGAI to the government to open training centres in up-to-date methods have produced no response. As a result, most big presses provide on-the-job training to their technicians. But according to the outgoing Chairman of PAPGAI, this has proved to be a costly process. The trainees initially lack the knowledge and skill to handle the machinery so that breakage and wear and tear are much more than normal. Moreover, the “Dubai Chalo” trend has hit the printing industry as much as other sectors and the most slcilled and best trained technicians tend to migrate to the Middle East.

How to improve quality?

 How can quality be improved? Mirza Jamil suggests that the Government should help to establish training schools for printers. The import of printing plants should be allowed free of duty so that those who wish to train technicians are not discouraged by the high cost of the machinery. PAPGAI itself has started a free correspondence course to train technicians. This will certainly help but will not suffice. Increasing competition can help to improve quality says Mr Mirza Jamil.

Although many printers would not agree, he insists that operating in a seller’s market the printing industry can get away with shoddy work. If the cost of machinery and raw material were to be considerably reduced, it would provide the incentive to new entrepreneurs to enter the field, thus giving rise to the much needed competition necessary for efficiency and quality. This would also create the compulsion for those in the printing industry to introduce modern management techniques and use the appropriate equipment for a particular job, which is not the case at present.

 Suggestions

 The outgoing Chairman of PAPGAI has specific recommendations to make. A commission should be set up to investigate the state of the printing industry and to fix standards of production. The levies on printing machinery and raw material be reduced or eliminated altogether. Facilities be organised for the training o{ technical hands. And finally, to encourage educational publishing, newsprint be imported duty-free for books and special printing machine be imported for the printing of textbooks.

Unless the printing industry is promoted as a low-cost concern, inexpensive books and reading material cannot be made available to the people. And when the tools of learning are beyond the reach of the common man, literacy and education tend to become the privilege of a few. The case for promoting the cause of low-cost and quality printing is a strong one.

If PAPGAI has failed to make an impression on the government it is not surprising. It does not constitute a powerful lobby since its present membership is just a fraction of the total number of printing • plants in the country. Since many of the printing presses are small concerns, they tend to be so occupied with their own management and operation that they have no inclination to participate in PAPGAI activities.

Source: Dawn, February 27, 1983

 

Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE TWO major problems facing the printing industry in Pakistan are the high cost of production and the poor quality of service provided. Identifying these two factors which determine the state of the industry today, Mr Ahmad Mirza Jamil, the outgoing Chairman of the Pakistan Association of Printing and Graphic Arts Industry (PAPGAI) points out that if the industry is surviving in the country it is because printers are operating in a seller’s market. The dismally low literacy rate, the poor reading habits of the people and the scarcity of low-priced books and literature are key indicators of the state of the publishing and printing industries in Pakistan.

It is not surprising to find these industries in a poor state. In a society where education is at a discount, the elements which go into the making of education also tend to be ignored. As compared with the publishing sector, printing is better off because it c to multifarious needs other than those of the publishers and stationers. The printer gets a substantial part of his business from the orders he receives for the printing of labels, cartons, pharmaceutical literature (which the majority of consumers cannot read), invitation and greeting cards and calendars. There is urgent need to look into the Continue reading “Woes of the printing industry: Need for duty cuts, cheap newsprint, incentives”

Publishing industry’s travail : Book production a high risk business

By Zubeida Mustafa

 BOOK PUBLISHING is a high risk business in Pakistan, says Mr Shams Quraeshi of Mackwin & Co. who has been in the book trade since 1947. Returns are slow in coming, hence not many people with capital to spare wish to invest in it. They would rather opt for an industry with quicker and guaranteed returns.

Even banks regard books as poor risk. Thus one can get a bank loan of Rs 80,000. against paper reams worth Rs 100,000. But as soon as the paper is converted into a book, no bank is prepared to accept it as security to advance a loan.

Malik Noorani, whose Maktabe-i- Daniyal has published the works of Faiz, Mushtaq Yusufi and Josh, considers himself to be lucky if he breaks even. “You have to be an entrepreneur, gambler and philanthropist to be a publisher. You also need a Qarun ka khazana and Ayub ka sabr,” sums up Mr Noorani, “I do not have the first, though I have the second.”

He admits that he manages to sell off all the books he publishes because he prices them abnormally low, which would not be feasible were he not subsidising his publications from his income from the sale of law books through the Pakistan Law House, which he runs at the Pakistan Chowk. In law books it is a seller’s market, Continue reading “Publishing industry’s travail : Book production a high risk business”

Publishing industry’s travail: Narrow market, poor technology inhibit expansion

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN 1978, the year for which full statistics are available, 642,000 titles were published in the world. Out of these Pakistan’s share was a meagre 1,317 titles, whereas Japan and West Germany, with smaller population produced over 43,000 and 50,000 titles respectively.

This projects a rather gloomy picture of the state of our book world. Things are said to Continue reading “Publishing industry’s travail: Narrow market, poor technology inhibit expansion”

Reading habits in children

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE ten-year-old drones on as he pausesat the end of each paragraph glancingfurtively at his teacherfor the eagerly awaited signal to stop.

The four-i ear-old enthusiastically turns the pages of his picture book as be concentrates on whatthe illustrations are trying to convey.

Although the older child is doingwhat would technically be called the act 0f reading recognizing the printed letter and decodingit into pronounceable words it is the four-year-old who isactually doing more readingfor reading is a complete actof communication which correspondsto the act of writing in thesense that it involves responseand feedback from the reader.

Despite the advantages of reinterpretationand retrospectionwhich reading offers, many people are not inclined to take upa book purely for recreation. They would much prefer the TV screen. Surprising thoughit might appear this is the case,to a greater extent, in the developed countries where literacyis universal and where onewould expect to take the readinghabit for granted. Thus it is estimated that in France 53 percent, in Netherlands 40 per centand in Hungary 39 per cent ofthe adults do not read books.But in Bangladesh where literacyis low barelya tenth of the literate people are non-readers, since those whoare literate are highly motivated. Continue reading “Reading habits in children”