The India book market remains “a giant in slumber” as new taxes hit imports amid rising paper prices

In an ill-considered move aimed at protecting the domestic publishing industry, the Indian government has imposed a 5% tax on imported paper books.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the new duties on Friday (domestic print books remain zero-rated) to a dismayed audience of publishers and publishing stakeholders.

The tax on uncoated and lightweight paper was reduced to 10% from 12%, and this move was welcomed at a time when paper prices are rising globally, but the general feeling was the negatives outweighed the positives for publishing in this budget.

Booksellers face a hard time trying to sell more expensive books from abroad, while publishers mostly took the view that this was a tax on reading, learning and entertainment.

Satyanand Nirupam, editorial director of the Rajkamal Prakashan Group, said,

I don’t think levying 5 per cent 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.

For Penguin Random House India Nandan Jha, senior vice president (product and sales) diplomatically said,

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.

Chiki Sarkar of the innovative digital-first publisher Juggernaut Books was more blunt:

Indians should have access to all kinds of information and ideas and stories – not just Indian books. As a local publisher who makes homegrown books, I value being part of a vibrant marketplace where my reader can grow through all kinds of reading.

Via the Times of India.

The giant in slumber reference is from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry website, which states:

Books have always been regarded as an important media for the development and promotion of human values. They record new ideas, preserve and communicate knowledge, impart education and values, and aid the overall development of an individual. The Publishing sector in India is the third largest in the world in English language publishing. Current statistics reveals that the sector is truly a colossus—a giant in slumber, which needs to be awakened and given its due status and identity.

Sadly this budget will do nothing to awaken the colossus in either its print or digital incarnations. A missed opportunity for both government and country.

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