Spreading the word – Problems of Regional Language Publishers

(This blogpost is part of a series of blogposts we are doing on ‘Spreading the Word : Copyright, Dissemination and Independent Publishing’ – a workshop that was organized by ALF and IPDA.)

Kannan Sundaram, an independent publisher in Nagarcoil, walked us through the difficulties faced by Tamil writers and publishers and we got an idea as to why publishing in a regional language is so much more difficult than publishing in English. As late as 1994, Tamil writers weren’t aware of copyright and did not expect to get paid for their books. Even today, Sundaram maintains, there are no full time writers in Tamil.

He mentioned the dismal state of Tamil writers and was of the view that copyright and royalties are essential for writers to be able to live off their writings. The government has been frequently nationalising the works of famous authors. Nationalising writers means the Tamil government buys the rights of copyright holders so that books of authors can be published in vast quantities. Despite the marketing advantages that this provides, it is essential that there be copyright and royalties so that writers can make a living by writing. Many writers are unaware of the amount of money they can make via royalties are way more than the lump sum they receive from the government at the time of nationalising. Sundaram mentioned books by prominent authors like Kalki that are being sold at prices as low as Rs 10 per book. Of course, these books are not of the best quality and are riddled with mistakes. In comparison, English writers, on the other hand, seem to experience the best of both worlds – their books are widely read and they receive royalties for their works, which means that they do not live on a pittance of what their work is worth. Sundaram suggested that copyrighting act as a catalyst so that the writers and publishers don’t lose out when books are being sold. Maybe this would be too suffocating for the English market, but it seems necessary for the Tamil market. Like Liang said in his first talk, there is no such thing as “one size fits all” for copyright. Only with trial and error will we discover what works where, how to patch up loop holes and help those who need it. It was a nice experience for all of us to listen to Kannan Sundaram – we take the English publishing world for granted, so much so that we don’t realise what works and what doesn’t in our own regional neighbourhoods!
Also read the other blogposts on the workshop here and here.


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