Initially printed in The Nation (edited and summarized)
Original post:-

Pirated books? Yes I buy them. In fact I grew up reading the pirated versions of my favorites for the simple and obvious reason: the cruel prices of the originals. I remember the time when I was an eleven year old kid and a new part of Harry Potter series was released. I was one of the first crazy fans to rush to the bookstore in order to grab a copy, only to find that the cost of the original (Rs. 2400) was well out of my pocket money’s scope. Thanks to book piracy, after switching to another bookshop I got a pirated copy at the shameful low price of Rs. 250 (Do the math).

Now before you start bashing me for being immoral, take in account the skyrocketing prices of foreign books in Pakistan. The pirated editions are economical and easier to get. Right or wrong, this is the real world. The foreign publishers cannot put books in our market at prices hardly affordable for a third world country and expect us to prefer them over pirated ones for the sake of upholding our morality.

The thriving piracy tradition in our country owes more to just our lack of regard for copy-rights. Some of the chains at very critical junctures are attached to the foreign publishers themselves. In Pakistan, contrary to the other countries the branches of foreign publishing houses are near to non-existence. In the absence of domestic publishing houses, the price we pay (if we choose to) is parallel in monitory terms to international level; which in turn gives birth to book piracy. If the alternative is out there for people then a few raids on bookstores cannot stop them.

My defense for this globally recognized criminal act maybe weak but let me get a few facts straight. A pirated copy does not necessarily imply a lost sale. For a certain number of pirated copies sold here, the same cannot be said had it been available exclusively in high price version. Low prices just serve as a tempting incentive to buy something; things that otherwise we would not have bothered considering. A lot of books in my collection are those which I would not have bought in ordinary circumstances, maybe because they didn’t initially seem interesting or simply that I did not know the writer. But due to their humble ‘pirated’ prices I had no hesitation in buying them out. Lisa Jackson, Joanne Harris and Diane Hoh are a few names I discovered this way.

Book piracy earned Pakistan international criticism and defame. But on the flipside, we should not forgo the fact that book piracy to some extent compensates for the virtual non-existence of libraries in our country. Not only it helps developing reading culture in students but also makes us a part of the global reader’s community. Had there been no piracy; Dan Brown, Sydney Sheldon and Paulo Coelho would have been alien names for us. Also not to forget that in case of students at university level,  paying for  expensive books on technology, medicine and business in addition to the degree dues is practically not feasible (rather next to impossible) for many students. When the savior Robin Hood comes here in the form of piracy, bidding good-bye to copy-right laws is something that students feel justified doing so.

Having said this, I do not mean to brush the dark side of book piracy under carpet. The reason for articulating the above mentioned arguments was to highlight the root cause of piracy and the dire need of availability of books at normal price range. For this purpose, the import of books should be made easier. Plus we should also urge for the establishment of sub-offices of international publishing houses in our country. Famous publishers like Penguin, Granta and others have offices in India because of which the reading culture has developed and has led to the growth of local writers as well. Reprinting the foreign originals here legally with the collaboration of foreign press companies will bring down the book cost. Not only will this help the readers here but will also prove beneficial for foreign publishers/writers by curbing book piracy.


40 thoughts on “Debating Book Piracy in Pakistan

  1. a really well written article and so true a topic specially for readers like me who live to read, we really need a break from all the pricey novels and i too opt for pirated versions mostly so we would really appreciate if some efforts are made to address this issue and once again thumbs up for the writer 🙂

    • Hi Habiba Younis
      I am not agree with you in this matter, wrong is wrong it cannot be justified at not able to buy then it is write to buy pirated Books.

      Educate your people demand will increase automatically so production,
      more you print you will print cheap but with quality of print and according to
      copy right law and respecting the law of land..

  2. I wonder where your loyalties lie?
    I agree whole-heartedly with you here.The original books are almost impossible to buy. And libraries are, as you said, non-existent.
    Plus, I am all for the suggestion at the end, but I guess its all we can do. Suggesting, I mean.

  3. @Sobby, very clear, the message is simply that the high cost of originals owes to the lack of domestic publishing houses due to which people like me make a choice of buying pirated books. Partial solutions, partial defense- no apologies.

  4. @Spherical Square , yeah, we can only have a say here and for my case in particular-babbling. As for my loyalties, to be honest pirated books have my vote-at least in the present circumstances.

  5. great analytical skills habiba, nicely summed up!
    I fear even if the low price original books come out in the market, I will still act too greedy to buy them and choose the pirated ones 🙂

  6. 10 on 10 for this one Habiba. You have broached a very crucial and yet not much spoken issue in this write up. And amusingly you have succeeded in justifying why-we-buy-pirated-stuff.

    I used to be very hard on piracy, I wouldn’t even buy pirated DVD-s but then I reached my mid 20-s and couldn’t ask more money from father ( unemployed and every month my self esteem gets derailed so no mid month dose ) and it was then that I switched to pirated stuff and life was heaven since then. Like you I discovered many authors, local ones too, while standing on pirated shelve.

    Funny thing is that even our local writers, instead of contacting domestic publishing houses, go for international ones like Penguin. For example, Uzma Aslam Khan, Mohammad Hanif etc. And then they complain about not having much readership.

  7. @normal girl, thanks for appreciating :]
    btw I was unaware of this fact u mentioned about Pakistani writers. Serves them right! They prefer international publishing houses therefore they should not cry when they dont get ‘domestic’ audience. So Lalchi of them!

  8. Some books are really out of reach for middle class people from sub-continent but soon it becomes a habit of buying pirated books only even when price difference between original and pirated is few hundred rupees. You have given an example of book costing Rs 2400 but I am sure there are many which cost around Rs 300 – 400 but still people got for pirated once which costs a lot cheaper. I am not saying one can buy every other book that they want to read but open piracy is reason why many people in do not consider writing as a serious option, its not much respected neither lucrative.

    Yes the book prices should not be very high and I know many economically priced books which have been successful but one should not shy away from spending few hundred bucks to get a copy of book. Another way is to buy used books if possible.

  9. @questaviator, I agree with your view. Though the fact remains that the price hike in book market paved way for a vibrant thriving book piracy. Now the piracy culture is so strong that people wont even bother to buy originals at somehow normal prices-even Im not an exception here.
    Nevertheless, you have a point. I guess offsetting this practice will take time. Setting domestic publishing units, making them commonly available in book markets will slowly and gradually encourage people towards buying originals.
    And yes, welcome to our blog 🙂

  10. I am not fully aware of situation in Pakistan but in India I have completed my whole engineering without having to purchase any pirated copy, thanks to Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and others manufacturing them in India and selling at economical prices. Otherwise there is no dearth of used books in market. Had we had to study through books by Indian prof’s then education would have been a joke. Most other books of my interest are also available at economical prices. So yes if they can publish them in Pakistan itself then it will surely will help both the publishers as well as people. Pakistan has 6th largest population and large fraction of them are youngsters so I guess foreign publishers should look into this potential market waiting for them.

    I wont claim to be a saint here, what many do with books I do with PC games 🙂

  11. @questaviator
    “what many do with books I do with PC games 🙂 ”
    and as for the course books on engineering and medicine, they are MIGHTY expensive here. Even bookshops dont make a point of stocking them. Plus even in old book stores the 2nd hand copies of these books are mostly pirated. Being a uni student myself, I heartily thank piracy here :p

  12. A very interesting and novel topic to write on! pirated books have found place in our lives so naturally that now it doesnt even feel ‘piracy’ anymore. i agree upon the points u’ve mentioned in defence of the use of pirated books in a country like Pakistan. the sky rocketing price of the copy right books is the main reason of course! i hope that someday the sub-houses of international publishing houses would consider our country too. till then.. pirated books zindabad 🙂

  13. well I don’t have to say anything to this. You already worded my own mind really. I totally agree to each word you said up there in the post.

  14. It was truly a great read.
    You know what.. here in London, Basic wage rate of labour is ₤6/hour, a person works for 7-8 hours a day i.e ₤48 a day. Everyone can cover his daily expenses b/w ₤20-₤30 a day including food, rent, transport, bills everything. Value of money is high, He can buy more things in less. He still saves for extra things.
    What a person gets in Pakistan? 300 rupees a day? And what’s the worth of rupee?
    There’s a big difference buying in pounds or in rupees. This difference makes us 3rd world country. Significantly lake of education facilities, specially libraries and book banks.
    My vote remains with the “pirated books in Pakistan” 🙂

  15. I don’t think there is a big deal of piracy issue in Pakistan. Sure, companies would definitely prefer you buy the originals, but for developing nations rules of copyright are usually waived. Thus we have piracy on such an open scale.

    In short, nobody expects you to buy an original and shouldn’t expect to either. You live in a low-income nation and thus the same price tages cannot be adequate for you. Feel free to pirate, until we get developed.

    Corporations, on the other hand, need to do with the original versions. Then again, depends on the size of the company, and its revenue.

  16. Living also in a third-world country, Philippines, I have nothing against piracy. In fact most people
    I know even teachers and police engage or even endorse it. Piracy goods being an inferior good will always
    thrive and will always be in the heart to the people in the low-earning nation until the economy of ones
    nation improves or until the means of price convinience is solved.

    On the other hand, I never knew Piracy was so pervasive that it embraces even book piracy.
    Although, I have to say book piracy here is futile. Philippines is closed to be as a nation
    of non-readers even though the literacy rate is high. Anyhow Book Piracy fosters a large quantity of well-read
    people. It serves for the common welfare.

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  18. Pingback: Debating Book Piracy in Pakistan | Tea Break

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