It is time for the Valley's book lovers to take some time out. At the fifth Nepal Education and Book Fair 2001 beginning today, they can walk through, browse and buy from almost a million titles on display and sale at over fifty stalls set up by distributors and publishers from Nepal and India. The organisers expect about 75,000 visitors, including bookworms and students exploring educational and career options. "This year more publishers are participating with new titles," says Govinda P Shrestha, president of the National Book Publisher's Association of Nepal (NBPAN) which has been collaborating since 1999 with a private firm, Global Exposition and Management (GEMS) to organise the fair.
It all began in 1997 when the first of such fairs was put together at the same venue, Bhrikuti Mandap, with 47 participants. "It instantly worked as a facilitator between educational institutions, publishers and the public," says Bijay Chettri of GEMS. The organisers say that the number of visitors has been increasing by 10,000 every year, beginning with 25,000 at the first show. This year, with the fair running two additional days, Chettri expects a larger rise in numbers.
This year's expo has two components, the Education and Career fair, from 4-7 May, and the Book Fair proper, from 4-12 May. Students can meet career counsellors and use interactive programmes to identify appropriate institutions they can apply to overseas. There will also be on-the-spot admissions to some universities and colleges.
The book section will showcase a large collection of academic and general books from India and Nepal, with over 100 publishers displaying their works in the fifty or so stalls. But you'll have to walk through and see what catches your interest-books and stalls are not sorted into Nepali and foreign books, or by category. There will be many new releases in the Nepali stalls-Ratna Pustak Bhandar, Mandala Books, Himal Books, and Ekta Books are all expected to bring their bestsellers and new releases in English and Nepali. Children's books will be well represented by Bal Sansar, an organisation that promotes children's literature. The King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, the WWF Nepal Programme and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) are also participating with specialised nature, environment and conservation-related titles. Himalayan Book Centre, run by one of the oldest Nepali book distributors, Pairavi Prakashan, Nepal Sahitya Prakashan and Vidyarthi Pustak, will showcase classic and contemporary
Last year's visitors, who saw unbelievable sales as distributors saw a great chance to dump stock, will be disappointed that discounts this time will not run to more than 10 percent. "This year's discount is based on international standards and aims at discouraging the sort of cheap competition evident in earlier exhibitions," says Madhab Lal Maharjan, general secretary of the NBPAN. Organisers estimate that each participating institution will bring books worth Rs 500 million and that revenue generated will be in the region of Rs 1 billion.
The book fair includes renowned publishers and distribution houses from Nepal and India, while the education fair has institutions from the UK, Singapore, India, Cyprus, Australia and Nepal. Most institutions will be represented by their local agents in Nepal. There's plenty of opportunity for students, but the organisers are unable to develop a mechanism to check instances of fraud that seem to dog the foreign university counselling business. Students are advised to take their time and do independent research before committing themselves to anything.
Another problem that organisers acknowledge they will face is piracy and institutions that peddle pirated books. They say they have no criteria to reject applications for participation, and that they are in no position to evaluate an institution's authenticity. The NBPAN sent out a circular requesting publishers to be vigilant about pirated books, but how effective this will be is anyone's guess.
Unfortunately, in Nepal, the economics of book fairs, exports and imports aren't yet completely sorted out. Under existing laws, books and hardware are in the same category. "It's strange that iron and books are categorised as the same kind of export," says Maharjan. "The Nepali diaspora in north-east and north-west India is a rich potential market. The government should come up with a trade policy so the export of books is easier," he adds. Basically, because they do not fall under the Open General Licence (OGL) regulations, foreign currency restrictions make imports and exports tedious. Chettri also complains about the complicated financial transactions: "We can't charge higher entry and participation fees. But we are faced with increasing overheads and it is getting difficult to sustain
There is good news, though, that might encourage more discussion about these issues: the NBPAN plans to work with six associations from the SAARC region to develop an annual book fair with support from the SAARC Book Development Council in New Delhi. The consortium plans to have each SAARC country host the book fair on a rotation basis, and have the others participate with a good selection. All publishers will be requested to donate a display copy to the SAARC library. "If all countries receive approval from their ministries, the plan will be put forward during the meeting of the SAARC Foreign Secretaries in Colombo early June," says the NBPAN's Maharjan. SAARC countries can then decide whether to also organise their usual domestic book fairs or just have one large jamboree every few years. The NBPAN also envisions promoting co-production, joint authorship, and the sale of subsidiary rights. If all goes according to plan, they anticipate that the regulations governing cross-border trade of books will be made less cumbersome. The first SAARC book fair is tentatively planned for next year in Bangladesh.