Publishers unhappy with 5% duty on imported books

The government's decision to levy 5% customs duty on imported books has failed to find support among the Indian publishers. Publishers feel that if the government wanted to help the publishing industry, it should have eased the process of claiming GST-related benefits and make cheaper paper readily availability.

24 Jul 2019 | By PrintWeek India

While some publishers felt it was too early to gauge the impact of the decision on the industry, others felt a vibrant marketplace that includes books from across the world would be good for readers.

“While the decision to levy custom duty on the import of books is going to affect the books industry, it is too soon to comment on the impact. We are evaluating the weight of this decision and how best to price our books going ahead," said Nandan Jha, senior vice-president (product and sales) at Penguin Random House India.

Juggernaut publisher Chiki Sarkar said, “Indians should have access to all kinds of information and ideas and stories — not just Indian books. As a local publisher who makes home-grown books, I value being part of a vibrant marketplace where my reader can grow through all kinds of reading.”

Satyanand Nirupam, editorial director of the Rajkamal Prakashan Group, stressed on the need for a collective action on a large scale that should be taken to promote a culture of reading, even as he voiced concern over rising cost of paper and its scarcity.“I don't think levying 5% custom duty on imported books is going to benefit our local publishers. If one really wants to help publishers here, the rising costs of paper should be brought down. The scarcity of paper should be addressed and removed,” he said.

In her budget speech, the finance minister had also announced withdrawing custom duty exemption from various kinds of papers but did not mention their existing rates or other details.

Author Shobhaa De questioned the move and tweeted, “Why a tax on foreign books? Madam, the rest of your Budget speech was just fine. Wish you had spared books! Local gyaan is great. But foreign gyaan is also needed.”

Ashok Gupta, publisher and general secretary of Association of Indian Publishers, welcomed the move and said it would encourage the Indian writers. “This is a very good step. It is going to encourage Indian literary works and authors,” Gupta said. He said without the custom duty, foreign authors would sell their unsold stock in India. “Without the custom duty on imported books, the international publishers would just dump their books in India and other countries as it would help them escape the cost of warehousing,” he said.

Gupta said the western publishers sold the books in India knowing that there is English-speaking population here.

Impact on education books

The duty increase will apply to books of all kinds.

According to a new published in Moneycontrol, the publishing industry will seek clarification from the finance ministry on whether educational books will be excluded from this list.

“A high percent of books used in higher education are published abroad. A customs duty hike would directly mean an increase in prices for the educational material. We are hoping that educational material is excluded from this list,” said the India head of a large educational books publishing house.

The publishing industry in India is worth almost USD 7.5-billion. Of this, English-language books dominate sales and of these, about 20-30% books for educational purposes are imported. Students from lower economic backgrounds would have to shell out more money from the same books in the future.

In streams like engineering or management where a large proportion of international books are used, the impact would be much higher. Educational institutions order books in bulk to enable easier access for the students and also cut costs.

A similar story in Nepal

Even as Indian publishers are grappling with a budget proposal of 5% customs duty on imported books, in the neighbouring Nepal, a 10% duty on imported titles has left publishers and booksellers reeling, with students hit badly as Kathmandu imports over 80% of its books from India.

After the Nepal government on 20 May announced a 10% duty on imported books, publishers stopped picking up books at the Nepal customs point in protest and have demanded roll back of the move. With no text books coming in to Nepal, the student community has been affected the most, say publishers.

“Around 80-90% of books in Nepal are imported, and most of it from India. Now the students, including those in classes 10 and 11, are not getting text books on time. The National Booksellers' and Publishers' Association of Nepal (NBPAN) has decided not to import any books in protest. We import 90-95% of academic and text books from India," a noted book seller in Kathmandu told IANS on phone, declining to be named.

(Courtesy PTI, Moneycontrol, IANS)