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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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PIRATES WITHOUT PROFITS
Bookwise

Is book piracy in India as rampant as in the high-tech world of software, CDs and DVDs' It isn’t simply because the demand for the products of writers and publishers has never been robust enough to generate a major piracy problem. Of course there have been exceptions — Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses, and some schoolbooks spring to mind — but pirated books have never cut seriously into sales. Why'

There are three reasons. First, the lack of demand and the scattered nature of the market doesn’t suit the pirate too well. Second, changes in the Copyright Act (the result of pressure from the computer and music lobbies) have made piracy a criminal offence, and there is now better policing of the retail trade which provide outlets for the illegal books. Third, technological changes of the print industry have made it difficult to put out reprints within days. But before going into the reasons, what is the modus operandi of pirates'

Book piracy is a fly-by-night operation. The book, or the series of books, especially school texts, are identified, usually in collaboration with booksellers and experts. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘market research’ is as sophisticated as that of any established publisher; probably better, because pirates have the huge advantage of knowing how many copies have actually been sold since publication and therefore, what the future holds for them.

Identification of the titles is tied up with marketing and distribution of all the copies — the operative word is ‘all’, because not a shred of evidence must be left. This is the most difficult and dangerous part of the operation that has to be completed within a week. Usually a leading wholesaler in a particular segment of the market is chosen to handle the retail operations; pirates don’t dirty their hands by handling individual orders. They make the wholesaler an offer that he just can’t refuse: huge discounts and staggered payments spread over three to four months.

The choice of titles and distribution arrangements are just one half of the problem; the other is locating a press that can handle the entire production process under one roof: from film-making, printing and binding, to dispatching to different locations. Most such presses are located in the metros and not in the remote regions where the clandestine piracy operations are carried out. The resultant compromises are immediately reflected in the quality of the reprinted books.

It is the huge advances in print technologies which can turn out a 600-page book within a matter of weeks that have made pirates realize it is not worth the game any more. There may be quick returns, but the risks are too many and the market too uncertain to carry on further. Software, CDs and DVDs are more significant fish to fry.

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