Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s proposal to slap a 5 percent customs duty on imported books in order to encourage the domestic publishing industry has not gone down well with book lovers, while publishers feel the government could help the publishing industry with some more concrete measures, like reducing the cost of paper.
Sitharaman proposed a “5% customs duty on imported books, to promote the domestic publishing and printing industry”.
From tweet reactions terming the proposal “not cool”, and a “crazy step” that would not help the domestic publishing industry, Twitterati appealed to the Finance Minister to withdraw the proposal.
Veteran journalist, Kanchan Gupta termed it a “bad idea”.
He tweeted: “It is a bad idea to tax books. That is why Customs Duty of 10% on imported books was exempted by successive Governments. In keeping with the spirit of not taxing knowledge, @FinMinIndia @nsitharaman would do well to withdraw the proposal to impose 5% import duty on books.”
Noted feminist, publisher, and author Urvashi Butalia said she did not feel the proposal to slap 5 percent customs duty on imported books would help the publishing industry much as “a lot of foreign books are printed locally”.
Talking to IANS, Butalia, who is the co-founder of Zubaan publishing house, said the government needs to think of the domestic publishing industry “holistically” in order to help it grow.
“I can’t say if the Finance Minister’s proposal will help the domestic publishing industry. If the government wanted to, then there are other ways to help – like making paper cheaper. The cost of paper has gone up so many times in the last 10 years that it is getting more and more expensive to print books,” she said, adding that it would be useful if the government slashes the price of paper.
Enumerating other ways in which the government could boost the domestic publishing industry, Butalia said helping publishers participate in book fairs, assistance in book distribution and providing library grants would be important measures.
On library grants, she said that since most academic books are bought by libraries, the cutting back on library grants has left libraries, which buy academic books in bulk, with no funds to buy books.
She also said the government was increasingly taking up the publishing of educational books, through the NCERT. “Educational books are the lifeline of the publishing industry,” she added.
Another aspect of hurting the publishing industry was the 12 percent reverse GST that is imposed on royalties paid to authors by publishers – which reduces the margins of publishers.
“India has always had an open import policy for books of educational value – with the idea that knowledge should circulate freely. Readers too have the right to access books of knowledge, and the budget should also respect the reader’s right by keeping books cheaper. Book shop owners too need to be kept in the picture.
“There is a lot the government can do to help the industry grow. No government, not just the BJP, has treated publishing with the seriousness it deserves,” she said, adding that because it is not treated as an industry, publishers are unable to get bank loans.
“These are the real things to be addressed,” Butalia said.