IPA country report: Bangladesh

In October 2015 the IPA General Assembly voted to grant the Academic and Creative Publishers Association of Bangladesh (ACPAB) IPA membership. It was a move that took the IPA's reach deeper into Asia via a country where language and the written word underpin the very identity of the nation.

Following the partition of India, in 1947, the Bengali language was central to the struggle for independence from the Dominion of Pakistan, which recognized only Urdu. The ensuing 'Language Movement' culminated in violent student protests in Dhaka, on 21 February 1952, in which a number of demonstrators were killed by police. Following several years of conflict and unrest, the government finally relented in 1956 and granted official status to Bengali.

In 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February International Mother Language Day, in tribute to the Language Movement and the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world. Bangladesh's biggest book fair, in Dhaka, runs for the whole of February for the same reason. 

rsz shayokToday, there are 1,200 publishers in Bangladesh, including 400 trade, 650 educational and 150 publishers of religious and other books. 

The ACPAB was founded in 1994, with 155 major publishers of Bangladesh in its membership. The IPA spoke to Kamrul Hasan Shayok, ACPAB Executive Director (right), about the status of Bangladeshi publishing today, and what must change to ensure the sector can thrive in the future.

How is the Bangladeshi publishing sector performing?

Overall growth in the Bangladeshi publishing industry's turnover in 2015, including both print and digital, was 15%. Trade publishing revenues fell by 8% and academic publishing revenues fell by 6%. However, educational publishing rose 22% and revenues on children's books were up 10%, while adult fiction, in comparison, fell by 12%. Significantly, 99% of publishers' income came through domestic sales.

Bangladesh's publishing sector gives complete focus to the country's biggest book festival, the Ekushey Book Fair (Amar Ekusehy Grantha Mela), which honours those killed on 21 February 1952.

Annual Bangladeshi publishing industry highlights include:

· The month-long Ekushey Book Fair, dedicated to the "language martyrs" who died in February 1952 to establish the Bengali mother tongue as an official state language

· Four divisional book fairs during the year in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture

· The annual Kolkata (India only) book fair and the Kolkata International Book Fair

· Organizing various book fairs in schools and colleges

· Promoting quality books and growing readership

· Organizing seminars and symposiums year-round to tackle barriers to book publication

What are the greatest challenges facing Bangladeshi publishers today?

Today, Bangladeshi publishers face a number of serious challenges, chiefly:

Piracy

Piracy is one of the major issues we face in Bangladesh, as in many countries. Books are copied and marketed at lower prices, posing a serious threat to legitimate publishers. In some cases pirated books are even supplanting and outselling original books. Piracy is not only causing the publication business to lose vital income, but obviously the authors themselves are deprived of royalties.

Barriers to educational publishing

In Bangladesh, the government-controlled National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) is the only body that can publish educational textbooks for school and colleges, and their books are given for free to all students from classes one to ten. The 1983 NCTB Ordinance outlawed private publishing of textbooks, practice books, guide books, reference book and so on, which has severely weakened the country's publishing industry. 

[IPA note: the IPA and ACPAB are currently monitoring the progress of a new draft education bill in Bangladesh that would criminalize publication of certain unofficial study guides. The IPA is deeply concerned by the immediate and wider implications of this proposal, and is working with the ACPAB to ensure Dhaka is made fully aware of the threat to freedom to publish that such a law would carry.]

How is the market for e-books developing?

E-book use in Bangladesh is only at the beginning, and the e-book market is still small, although growing fast. Some people have started to use e-books and some publishers are ready to publish them, such as Panjeree Publications, Bengal Publications and a few others that are already doing so commercially. PBS, an affiliate of Panjeree Publications, began publishing e-books four years ago. More marketing and promotion is needed to increase the popularity of e-books in Bangladesh.

How are bookstores faring?

Many Bangladeshi entrepreneurs have tried to set up bookstores under the names of ETC, Words and Pages, Omni and others, along with PBS, the sister company of Panjeree Publications, which was established in 2009 on a concept that offers books, music, a café and a 5D theatre, and is thriving. PBS is the first chain bookstore in Bangladesh, with two outlets in the capital and more due to open around the country.

It's getting gradually tougher to operate bookstores in Bangladesh. Many businesses have done their best yet not really succeeded. Even so, a lot of entrepreneurs have been inspired by the success of PBS and are launching bookstore chains, which is good news for the publication sector in Bangladesh.

For Bangladesh's publishing sector to thrive and progress, what needs to change or improve?

One of the greatest challenges we face is that there is currently no entity that manages human resource development for the publishing industry in Bangladesh. A professional, educational background related to publications is essential to start a publishing house or to work in one. This means the industry is suffering a lack of trained and skilled authors, editors, proof readers, illustrators, artists and so on.

Besides this, there are a number of other key areas which will enable Bangladesh's publishing sector to thrive and progress. Namely, we need.

1. Favourable and sound legal, political and economic frameworks

2. Freedom to publish to be established and protected by law

3. Book piracy to be reined in, with robust monitoring of piracy websites

4. Government programmes to encourage reading and promote its many individual and societal benefits

5. Initiatives to foster joint publications between domestic and foreign publishers

6. Modernization of books and publishing through technological support and development

7. Overall government cooperation and backing for Bangladesh's publishing sector

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