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Book fair brings royalty issue to the fore

B. Kolappan
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Visitors at 36th Book Fair at YMCA grounds, Nandanam, in Chennai. —Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
Visitors at 36th Book Fair at YMCA grounds, Nandanam, in Chennai. —Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

As the 36{+t}{+h}Book Fair got under way in Chennai on Friday, a debate on royalty for writers has come to the fore, even as publishers are complaining about the government’s failure to purchase books for public libraries since 2009.

The book fair has been witnessing a steady increase in the number of participants — from 687 last year to 747 this year — and around 10 lakh titles are out on sale. This growth, however, has not benefitted writers, says critics.

“While writers are not aware of their rights, there is a lack of commitment on the part of publishers both in terms of moral and legal. Around 75 per cent of the publishers do not pay royalty to the writers and many pay grudgingly,” alleged A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies.

But he hoped the industry would move to that stage next, as writers who have established a name for themselves are getting proper payment.

“A decade ago it was impossible get a book published unless the author was well-known to the readers. But the trend has changed and it has become easy for anyone to get a publisher,” he explained.

Even writer S. Ramakrishnan, one of the most sought-after authors in Tamil and who had no issues with his publishers, said his case could be an exception and that a majority of writers could not get royalty properly from their publishers.

“In Tamil Nadu, you cannot lead a life depending on your writings for livelihood. Even those who buy the book from publishers and sell it get a discount of 30 to 35 per cent. But writers’ royalty continues to remain at 10 per cent and in some cases it has moved up to 12 per cent. Publishing still remains a cottage industry and many treat it as a profession without any capital investment,” he said.

Mr. Ramakrishnan, during a visit to the US, was asked whether he was a multi-millionaire as he had written around 50 books.

“That is the kind of assumption related to writers elsewhere. One of my short stories was published by Penguin and I am getting royalty for it every three months,” he said, adding that many publishers did not make any promotional efforts to sell books.

Even though writer Rajendrachozhan agreed royalty was an issue, he made a case for analysing the issue taking into consideration so many factors plaguing the publishing industry.

“Book writing and publishing is no longer considered an intellectual pursuit. Publishing books is seen as a commercial venture and serious literary efforts would not be encouraged by all publishers. Moreover, there is no transparency in the ways followed by the Library Authorities in selecting books for purchase, and failure on the part of the government to purchase books also affected the industry severely,” he said.

Publishers’ argument

“No publisher denies royalty to a book that sells. But how can a publisher pay for the books printed and remain unsold? A. Madhavan is a brilliant writer in Tamil. But in the last ten years I am not able to sell his books I first printed,” said Vasantakumar of Tamizhini publications.

He said that publishing industry could not be viewed in isolation when popular and mass media promotes inferior quality.

His views were echoed by Manushyaputhiran of Uyirmai Pathipagam.

“We pay royalty promptly to writers. But at the same time I volunteered to publish the books of young writers to encourage them. There is one book. I published 450 copies and I am yet to sell 350,” he said.


  • Writers complain they are not paid royalty

  • Publishers say they can’t pay for books that don’t sell


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