Iranian publication industry and digital revolution

Nafiseh Bahari

Despite all the different views of different political, social and cultural groups on social trends and statistics, they all agree on the low rate of reading in iran. the numbers that each group or institution offers may differ from another’s, however, the most pessimistic and the most optimistic proposed rates both indicate the small amount of time that iranians spend reading. “an iranian citizen, in average, spends two minutes per day reading, and considering the rate of 90 minutes in developed countries such as japan and the uk, or 55 minutes per day in developing countries such as turkey or malaysia, it is a disaster” asserted the head of iranian national library and archive in 2010. more than anything, the low rate of reading affects the publication industry. While the main problem of iranian publications in the 80s and 90s was printe ries, the import of new digital machines, that could press faster and cheaper, solved the issue in the late 90s. but the other problem that emerged was the paper. previously, the subsidised paper provided by the state was not enough but could save

the publishers from bankruptcy. since the early 2000s, the privatisation policy of mahmoud ahmadinejad›s administration led to cuƫng the subsidies for paper. the policy increased the price of paper which in turn caused the increase of book prices in a society which was struggling already with an economic crisis. meanwhile, the ministry of culture and islamic guidance, as the institution responsible for censoring and approving the books before publication, hardened its censorship in ahmadinejad’s administration and doubled its pressure after the controversial presidential election of 2009, in a way that even the books that had been previously and frequently published lost their permit for re-publication. Therefore, the increase of the prices, decrease in the purchases and strict censorship caused a hard time for the publication industry in iran. the average of 10,000 copies per title that was a common number in the 1960s, with the national population of 22 million, decreased to the average of 3,300 or 5,500 copies in the 1980s, and is now around 500 to 1000 copies while the population is more than 80 million. Recently, however, the extension of internet coverage — which had been first launched in some of iranian universities in 1993 — diverted many books and press customers to the world wide web. the internet has had some advantages for iranian publishers, which are not under copyright coverage, including the access to newly released international books that can be purchased or pirated to be translated into farsi, but on the other hand, new farsi books are increasingly being scanned and pirated on the internet, which has a huge impact on iranian publishers. Uploading the scanned out-of-print books that are not profitable for republishing or underground books that are not approved by the ministry of culture does not damage the publishers. but the case is different for the newly released titles due to the lack of or small share of publishers in the production, distribution and selling of books on the internet, which is partly the result of underdevelopment in electronic trade inside the country. The tendency towards reading online has been growing. according to the head of public libraries, 8.8 percent of iranians read e-books and the same rate among serious readers has increased to 42 percent. The growing digital procedure, though, has had several problems related to farsi script. in the past, the operating systems did not cover farsi fonts and the efforts of state foundations to solve the problem were usually unsuccessful. the problems have mostly been solved nowadays but still scanned books cannot be transformed to searchable texts that can be read on electronic devices; in other words, scanned texts remain as an image. the problem is greater in academic institutions – such as universities, research centers, national libraries and archives – that convert texts to digital files. however, recent efforts have eased access to old texts; newspapers from the last century through parliament library, journals and magazines of recent decades through websites like noormags, or old manuscripts through the national library of iran. Along with the new opportunities that the digitization has created for readers, the internet has also offered a chance for new writers to publish their books online — especially poems — which they used to self-publish through small publishers. while the new writers use the internet to provide their works directly to readers, the small publishers lost another income source. Overall, the digitisation of printed texts — and not digitally produced texts — has been a growing trend in iran and has led to the popularity of new websites, like, that provide free downloads of rare and out-of-print books.

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