This Fortnight in Publishing (27 March 2017)

Hello and welcome to This Fortnight in Publishing

Those who know me will know that I do not read any Tamil, but Asokamitran is a name I've heard throughout my life. During several of my ill-fated attempts to start reading Tamil books, when I was scouting around for books that combine simple language and engaging stories, his work was often recommended. I've heard his name in passing conversation at home, at friends' homes, in the Chennai book fair, and in conversations with other publishing professionals, and each time I would make a mental note to give it another try. It's sad to hear that he is no more. You can check out a much better eulogy by Mangai here and Jeyamohan here (there's a controversy about the latter already). 

It seems that the literary award season may be behind us, but it is time for awards for publishing professionals. Bookaroo recently won the Literary Festival of the Year award at the London Book Fair International Excellence awards, while four Indian news publications were nominated for the Asian Media Awards (results to be announced on 19 April).

In other news, three academic publishing heavyweights - Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Taylor & Francis - have decided to withdraw from the photocopying case that began five years ago. For those who have not been following the case, the issue began in 2012 when the three academic publishers filed a copyright infringement case against Rameshwari Photocopy, a photocopy shop located on the campus of Delhi School of Economics. The allegation was that the photocopy shop was selling "course packs" made of photocopied sections of their books. There were a few technicalities in the case: a) the percentage of a book that can be copied under the "fair use" policy; b) whether this counts as "educational use" under the fair use claim; and c) the prohibitively high cost of textbooks. The last point perhaps influenced the case the most - the case brought up several thorny issues regarding how to balance access to knowledge and the cost of producing knowledge. These are the same questions that are plaguing the open access movement - we can all agree that research should be made accessible, but how then do we pay for conducting, writing, editing, reviewing, and publishing research?  

It is unclear as yet why the publishers withdrew from the case, though it has been suggested that as academic publishers are increasingly transitioning to digital channels that offer a tighter hold on copyright (since they may fall under international law as opposed to Indian law), the case's importance has reduced since 2012. However, it is true that the case has been progressing unfavourably for them, since a single-judge bench ruled against the publishers in September 2016, and a division bench in December 2016 clarified that the photocopying is permissible if it is being done by a teacher "in the course of instruction" for classroom use. In a somewhat mixed statement, the publishers said, "We understand and endorse the important role that course packs play in the education of students. We support our authors in helping them produce materials of the highest standard and we maintain that copyright law plays an important part in balancing the interests of those creating, curating, and disseminating learning materials with those requiring access to them."

And to wind things up: the growth of the digital books segment is finally plateauing/declining and for a very simple reason. Digital book retailers can no longer offer the discounts they were offering earlier to woo readers. Without the crazy discounts, readers are migrating back to print.

Have a good week everyone!

As always, email me at in case you want to discuss anything in this newsletter.


Chitralekha Manohar