[WSMDiscuss] India in movement…., Freedoms in movement…; Movements in movement ? : Publishers fear red tape, censorship, Govt gets a warning - New and tough rules on ISBN prompt global body to react

JS CACIM jai.sen at cacim.net
Wed Jun 21 21:31:58 CEST 2017

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

India in movement…., Freedoms in movement…; Movements in movement ?

[The wheels continue to turn, the nets continue to close, the pressures continue to rise, in India as elsewhere.  Please read the two articles in this post.  They contain good and bad news.  Together, they are a little long, and a little technical, but between the lines they are about important shifts taking place not only in India but also in so many other places, in relation to the rise of authoritarianism and the effect of this on cultures of politics and on the politics of culture, including for instance in Turkey, in Egypt, in the US, earlier in Canada, and elsewhere….  But they are also about civil internationalism and international solidarity, of a kind.

[Please also read the articles I am posting here in relation to recent earlier posts about ‘India in movement…’, on rising pressures by the right on the freedom of speech in universities (and in some cases, their takeover), with increasing monitoring and harassment of nongovernmental organisations, with periodic and targeted attacks on prominent activists, professionals, and public intellectuals, and targeted attacks on Dalits… and at another level, but with widespread related affects, the sudden and forced demonetisation in India late last year, the relentless drive towards the universalisation of the ‘Aadhaar’ card regime in the country, biometrically tied to everything and every body, with its limitless possibilities of surveillance and control…  And please also, and for all the supposed ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘vigorous public debate’ in India, and the courage of those who write publicly, carefully read between the following lines…

[In short, along with a host of other related drives by the Right that is in power in India today – and where all this is of course not happening by mere coincidence -, these articles make clear that there is now also growing restriction on, and control of, publication in India, and from what I hear, targeting the left and liberal press; using bureaucracy and process as its tool, and where the long-term, downstream effects of this are huge.  The crippling and then crushing of independent small publishers is only a beginning; the big international presses are apparently already beginning to move out of India.  I have so far heard that Harvard University Press and Routledge have closed their offices in India recently, despite India being such a huge market.

[The first post is also about a reaction to what is happening in India, though – in these articles - not from within India but from outside. 

[But there may be something here.  It’s possible that this article just hasn't dealt with reactions from within India, but I think there may be something here that is in itself interesting and important, and reinforces something that I feel I’ve noticed taking shape in India over the last year or two : That, and if I’m not wrong – though I would be the happiest if I am -, not unlike what happened during the so-called Emergency in 1975, there seems today to be far less organised, open, public reaction within India from people (other than those directly under attack) in sectors under pressure, to what is happening, than was earlier the case, in recent decades; and, I have sensed, a tendency to try and work in less public ways; to turn in, and - sort of – hope for the best.  The word ‘fear’ has returned.  But which constitutes a major and even radical shift in cultures of politics in this supposedly vibrant, democratic country.  Could this be a function of a chill factor again having an effect, as during the Emergency ?  Or am I wrong in my reading ?

Publishers fear red tape, censorship, Govt gets a warning

New and tough rules on ISBN prompt global body to react

Ritika Chopra

Indian Publishers Face Delays, Fear Censorship as Government’s ISBN Rules Become Complex

Arpita Das

              Thank you, Arpita, for writing this piece.



Publishers fear red tape, censorship, Govt gets a warning

New and tough rules on ISBN prompt global body to react

   Written by Ritika Chopra <http://indianexpress.com/profile/author/ritika-chopra/> | New Delhi | Published:May 25, 2017 5:25 am
http://indianexpress.com/article/india/publishers-fear-red-tape-censorship-govt-gets-a-warning-4672586/ <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/publishers-fear-red-tape-censorship-govt-gets-a-warning-4672586/> The new online application system has also raised fears of censorship, with the ministry seeking details of each book before issuing ISBNs. Illustration: Mithun Chakraborty 

THE HRD [‘Human Resources Ministry’ - JS] Ministry [in India] risks losing its role of distributing International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) to publishers in India amid complaints of red-tapism and fears of censorship by the government. On March 29, in a letter sent to Minister of State for HRD Mahendra Nath Pandey, the ISBN International Agency warned that it is “seriously considering” revoking the ministry’s appointment as the agency for issuing ISBNs in India as the number of complaints has “reached unacceptable levels”.

Last year, the HRD Ministry, then under Smriti Irani <http://indianexpress.com/about/smriti-irani>, digitised the allotment of ISBNs, a move that publishers complain has inexplicably slowed down publishing in India. The new online application system has also raised fears of censorship, with the ministry seeking details of each book before issuing ISBNs. Publishers, for instance,  have to provide the book jacket, which carries synopsis and blurbs from authors.

ISBN is a unique 13-digit code, usually found on the back cover of a book above the barcode and used by buyers to identify books. Although ISBN is not mandatory to publish a book, it has become an indispensable sales tool as bookstores, wholesalers and distributors keep track of books by these codes. Currently, there are over 150 registration agencies appointed by the UK-based ISBN International Agency for providing ISBNs to publishers in over 200 countries. In India, the Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency (RRMRNA), under the HRD Ministry, has been entrusted with this task.

According to several publishing houses, which spoke to The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, ISBNs are now issued in lots of 10, instead of 100, after a wait of three to four months. “Many of us have been surviving on our stock of ISBNs secured earlier. But we are running out. At this rate, the publishing industry in the country will face a serious crisis in two to three months,” said a publisher.

Over 10 publishers are learnt to have already submitted a representation to the ministry on the problems being faced. “The (ISBN) Board is concerned at the very high level of email queries and complaints that the International ISBN Agency receives about the ISBN Agency of India from publishers who are based in India. The level of complaints has reached completely unacceptable levels — we are getting a number of complaints every day,” states the letter written by Stella Griffith, executive director, ISBN International Agency.

Griffith’s missive flags mainly three problems. First, the lack of response on email or phone from the ministry once an application for ISBNs has been filed. Second, the delay of three to four months for publishers to get ISBN numbers allotted as against the expected service time of two weeks. Third, the restrictions imposed on the number of ISBNs assigned in one go, from a set of 100 to a set of 10.

The letter also asks the government to clarify with regard to fears of censorship in the Indian publishing community. According to Griffith’s letter, publishers feel that the request to provide full details of each publication before seeking ISBN number amounts to censorship. “In fact, it is usually good practice to collect metadata about each book in order to make sure that the publication qualifies for ISBN (for example, that it is text-based, monographic and available to the public) and also in order that the details about it can be included in a “books in print” listing or database.

However, since I do not think that the India Agency produces a “books in print” listing (although that would be very welcome), and given the long delays in issuing ISBNs, it is very easy to see why publishers might think there is censorship/ restriction on freedom to publish. We hope that you can confirm to us that no such censorship rules or restrictions are in place,” the letter states.

Citing “little sign of improvement” in the ministry’s performance, Griffith wrote, “Board informs you that it is seriously considering revoking the appointment of your agency and awarding ISBN agency of India to another organisation.” Pandey’s office did not respond to questions emailed by The Indian Express. The ministry, however, is learnt to have written back to Griffith this month clarifying its position on the matter.

According to sources, the government has requested the ISBN International Agency to cite specific examples of delay, which can be taken up on priority. It has also defended the conservative approach in issuing ISBNs on the ground that only roughly half of the 78,000 unique codes issued to publishers till date have actually been used for  publishing books. The government has also dismissed any suggestions of censorship.

When contacted, Griffith confirmed receiving a response from the HRD ministry to The Indian Express. “We have replied to the joint secretary’s letter and have asked for further clarifications at this time from him. We need the response and are monitoring the situation in the meantime,” she wrote in an email. Asked if the ISBN International Agency has shortlisted alternative names for appointment as the ISBN Agency of India, she stated, “We seek to ensure that satisfactory performance is maintained and work with the respective agency concerned to make improvements as required. If an agency was consistently under-performing we would need to consider what action to take and possibly that might include a change in the responsible national agency.”

Indian Publishers Face Delays, Fear Censorship as Government’s ISBN Rules Become Complex

By Arpita Das <https://thewire.in/author/arpitadas/> on 29/05/2017 <https://thewire.in/141000/indian-publishers-face-delays-fear-censorship-governments-isbn-rules-become-complex/>	• 1 Comment <https://thewire.in/141000/indian-publishers-face-delays-fear-censorship-governments-isbn-rules-become-complex/#disqus_thread>
https://thewire.in/141000/indian-publishers-face-delays-fear-censorship-governments-isbn-rules-become-complex/ <https://thewire.in/141000/indian-publishers-face-delays-fear-censorship-governments-isbn-rules-become-complex/>

The HRD ministry’s new rules for giving ISBNs to publishers are inexplicable – why should the applicant get clearance from NITI Aayog?

File photo of the Kolkata book fair. Credit: Biswarup Ganguly/Wikimedia Commons

The Indian publishing industry is feeling the pain <https://thewire.in/140153/isbn-india-mhrd-publishers/> after the changes to the process for getting the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which till now was a relatively simple task. After the process went online, things have got more complicated and difficult, and delays are endemic. And publishers are beginning to even express concern over possible censorship <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/publishers-fear-red-tape-censorship-govt-gets-a-warning-4672586/>.

A bit of history is needed. Just three decades ago, certain members of the Indian book trade worked closely and determinedly with the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) to popularise the use of ISBNs in our country. An ISBN is a unique identifier number – earlier with ten digits, more recently with 13 – which appears on every copy of a particular title published in the world. While there is no legal requirement for an ISBN and nor does it offer any legal protection, it is a product number which is invaluable to publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. Given that in the 1980s Indian publishers were still getting used to carrying ISBNs on our books, it is a testament both to the tenacity of the people who made the logic of such a number clear to the members of the book trade in India, as well as to the growing global trade in an increasingly computerised and digital era, that today no publisher worth her salt can imagine putting a book out there without an ISBN assigned to it.

After ISBNs came into being internationally in 1970, the nodal international ISBN agency <https://www.isbn-international.org/> began to get into collaborations with organisations in various countries to enable them to assign ISBNs to publishers in their respective countries. In India, that collaboration was set up with the Raja Rammohun Roy Library <http://isbn.gov.in/> (RRRL) located under the aegis of MHRD.

When I started my own publishing house Yoda Press in 2004, I remember a particularly hot afternoon spent at the RRRL office on Kasturba Gandhi Marg in New Delhi, waiting for the lunch hour to end so that I could put in a formal request in person for the first batch of ISBNs to be assigned to us. I had been advised by senior book trade members that an appearance in person would help my cause. As is wont to happen in government offices in India, lunch hour extended to two or perhaps three. I waited, my determination waning, and as I was getting up to leave, a surly, portly lady appeared, took my application and informed me that there was no need to come in person, and in future, we should put our request for additional numbers on a postcard and send it to them, and the job would be done. Indeed, for the next decade, and without fail, this was how we got our ISBNs, via the Indian postal system and a humble postcard.

In 2016, however, the HRD minister, Smriti Irani introduced the ISBN portal, making the process of registration and application for ISBNs, new or additional, online. Since then, we in the book trade are faced with the ISBN conundrum. The application process has become a nightmare and very few of us, even after trying for almost a year, have managed to receive our new batch of ISBNs. Those who have received theirs are dismayed to find that they have been assigned only ten new numbers instead of the customary 100. As far as new applications for fresh publishing ventures are concerned, multiple applications have been rejected with the pithy message ‘application incomplete’ but with no further explanation what that might mean.

In the meantime, publishing is booming in India. A recent Bloomberg article put the total worth of the sector at $6.76 billion and estimated that the sector is set to grow at an average compound annual growth rate of 19.3% until 2020. To give you an idea how big that is, the estimated compound annual growth rate for global book publishing for the next five years is just 2%. Naturally, this implies a humungous volume of new titles, which need to get off the ground on time. However, with ISBNs mired in the current online conundrum, publishers feel that they will have hell to pay in getting the work done.

ISBNs are generally assigned to a new title by a publisher from the batch received by her from RRRL at the time that the contract is signed with the author, i.e., at the very beginning of the publishing process. With the global world market having become accessible via the growth in online retailing of books, ISBNs are important for trade book buyers, distributors, aggregators and bookstores in pre-ordering a forthcoming book that catches their interest. More than anything else, at the point that I as a publisher start doing advance publicity for a book, I need  to have an ISBN attached to the title for my trade buyers to treat it with any interest. The ISBN, in other words, spells that I am a serious publisher and that the title being promoted is going to be made available within an established, recognised and accessible system.

A publisher friend rued to me the other day that she had applied for her new batch of ISBNs when the contract was signed and now the stock is ready to be printed and she is yet to receive them. She has, in other words, been waiting for eight months, while the Raja Rammohun Roy website <http://isbn.gov.in/> continues to publicise ‘Now get ISBNs in 7 Days’.

The particulars of the actual application form add to the conundrum. As a memorandum on the matter submitted to the ministry three months ago by a group of publishers clearly spells out, ‘The application does not favour Indian language publishers as they cannot apply in an Indian language.’ What this means is that Indian language publishers have to submit a phonetic equivalent of the title of the book in the Roman script, which often does not get accepted. Since there is no email or telephone number provided anywhere on the website, these publishers are then stuck with no one to reach out to.

A large number of publishing houses in India, particularly the smaller ones, are proprietorships. And by the law of the land, a publisher who is a sole proprietor does not have to be legally registered. Despite this being the case, the form asks for a registration number and a document and one cannot proceed further without producing these.

At a time when self-publishing is on the rise not just in the world but in India, and on an average five-six of the top ten bestselling titles every month are self-published ones, for the ISBN agency to give out only one ISBN at a time to authors makes little sense.

Perhaps what is most worrying about the application process is that entities such as trusts which are also publishing houses are being asked during the application process to first get a clearance from the NITI Aayog, an organisation that has nothing to do with publishing whatsoever. Publishers fear that the ISBN system might be used as a surveillance or censorship mechanism given that we live in an era of increasing legal cases against perceived ‘offending of sentiments’ and book bans, with some large publishers even self-censoring by pulling books off their list in the recent past. Naturally, the publishing industry is worried and even the international agency has taken note <http://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/as-publishers-fear-censorship-and-red-tapism-centre-gets-isbn-international-agency-warning/684563/> of the problems faced by Indians.

Frederick Noronha, an independent publisher had a pertinent question:‘ …if someone is an active publisher, doing their work diligently and producing books regularly, what’s the need to go through the entire process of re-registering with the ISBN authorities, submitting all documents every time one applies for a new set of ISBN numbers? It is not as if these details change every few months, or that the same needs to be repeatedly verified.’

Another publisher friend brought this to my attention: “ISBN issuance being country specific is only a facilitation process. Nowhere is it mentioned that a publisher from one country cannot purchase an ISBN from another country. Should the publisher decide to purchase from another country, he loses out on the group classification (the fourth and fifth digit) assigned to India. To a consumer (retail, individual, organisation) it really doesn’t matter as it is just a product number.” Maybe, it is just a matter of time before Indian titles begin to be published with UK, US or Brazilian ISBNs on their covers.

Arpita Das runs an independent publishing house called Yoda Press.

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What to read next:

International Agency Threatens to Revoke MHRD's Power to Grant ISBN Numbers to Book Publishers <https://thewire.in/140153/isbn-india-mhrd-publishers/>

In "Government"


Jai Sen

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/> / http://www.openword.net.in

Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

Recent publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2016  – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (forthcoming in 2017 from New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press), ADVANCE PREFINAL ONLINE MOVEMENT EDITION @ www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2013 – The Movements of Movements : Struggles for Other Worlds, Part I. Prefinal version of Volume 4 Part I in the Challenging Empires series. New Delhi : OpenWord.  Prefinal version 1.0 available @ http://www.into-ebooks.com/book/the_movements_of_movements/ <http://www.into-ebooks.com/book/the_movements_of_movements/>

Jai Sen, ed, 2017a – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  Volume 4 in the Challenging Empires series (New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press).  Available for pre-order at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>

Jai Sen, ed, 2017b – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance.  Volume 5 in the Challenging Empires series (New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press)

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