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When FIVE is more than FIVE HUNDRED

Bhutanese parents complain that our children are exposed to so much foreign content and that they might soon forget our own root. Some parents also feel that their children respond well and better to stories that have Bhutanese characters and places in them. That's why the need for more and better Bhutanese books in the market. And we have only a handful of people who are committed to making this happen although the financial return is almost none.  

Bhutan can boast of not many writers. Here writing or publishing aspect of writing is an expensive hobby. In the first place, it is difficult to convince people to publish their writings and many leave it before they are halfway. Publishing is a complicated process. But here it is even more complicated since our publishers are not publishers in the real sense of the term. They would only 'publish' (print) school textbooks and in that they are only being wise - averting risks to their businesses. 

Recently, the whole nation started debating about BICMA's new rule of bookstores having to register every title that they import from outside by paying a registration fee of Nu. 5 per title. That was not even a debate actually. It was more like people from all walks of life extending their support to the booksellers and complaining about the unfairness of the new rule.  

Bookstores in the country thought that this rule would greatly hamper their businesses. Yes, to some extent, for an honest person. Initially, I also felt having to register every single title is an illogical and cumbersome a process. Of course, bookstores will have to pay fees, proportionate to the number of titles that they import.  

But on a second thought, I am forced to believe that registration fee for a foreign book (at Nu. 5) is far cheaper - in fact 100 times cheaper - than registering a Bhutanese title. BICMA collects Nu. 500 to register a Bhutanese book and issues a BICMA registration number. The authority has been collecting the fee for quite some time now. But no one had complained so far. Is it because writers are helplessly driven by their passion for writing that they do not mind paying whatever the amount the authority imposes on them? 

Now we realize that we had been paying so much more in comparison to foreign titles. In fact, if the cost of registering a foreign title is Nu. 5, then a Bhutanese title should be registered almost at no cost. That is again if we are serious about promoting Bhutanese content. Additionally, registration of a Bhutanese title takes quite a long time in the name of 'reviewing the content' while the authority is merely asking the booksellers to submit a list of foreign titles.  

I know no one will listen to us or do anything about it - because we are the silent lots. However, it gives me some sort of satisfaction being able to point out how things are on the ground. The authority might listen to booksellers (businesspeople) and might even waive off the need to register every foreign title. And now there are speculative media reports that the government is planning to waive off all forms of taxes related to books. That is good news to businesspeople but for a common Bhutanese writer, she has to pay the registration fee and also a hefty commission (some bookstores demanding as high as 45%) to these businesspeople to get their printing cost back. 

And all these will pass, I know. Bhutanese children will continue to read foreign content and booksellers (businesspeople) will continue making money - even more so having to pay no taxes at all. 


  1. Holly Cow you nailed it! keep posting.

  2. Nice one Ngawang!

  3. I have never thought of the ground realities you have mentioned until today. Let's hope the concerned authorities hear and understand the mentioned facts of yours.

  4. Thanks for sharing, in reality it is somewhat long process to publish a book, that is one reason to demotivate the young writers.

  5. I think we are confusing two issues here- paying a fee before publication is somewhat different from having to register books that have been already been published. The publishers of the foreign books have also paid to get an identifier (usually ISBN). But apparently ISBN numbers, which are standard elsewhere in the world, have no value here because BICMA insists on issuing their own registration number for all these books.

    Let's look at it in reverse- if a book published in Bhutan acquires a valid ISBN, then it can be sold in most other countries without needing to be 'registered' there for a fee. They will not put a stamp on your book with a new 'registration number', and booksellers will not be penalized for not personally taking a copy of the book to their media authority and having this done. So why must things be so complicated for foreign books in Bhutan?

    The reason a lot of us were incensed is because this was an attempt at censorship of content, as admitted by BICMA officials on record, and I think it's harmful for the State to decide what we are permitted to read and what we are not.

    This doesn't have to be a foreign books vs Bhutanese books thing. I have have read your book and other Bhutanese books, and I also read foreign books. They are not mutually exclusive. And limiting the availability and affordability of foreign books does not in any way encourage the local literature scene- on the contrary, it will slowly but surely snuff it out. When I cannot even afford to buy my young nephew a copy of Great Expectations anymore, it becomes that much harder to dream of him growing to be a lover, let alone a creator of good literature.

    Apologies for the lengthy comment!

    1. Thanks for clarifying Utsav!

    2. Utsav, thanks for dropping a comment here. I understand what you are trying to say. BICMA insists that all international titles be registered so as the bookstores be able to sell them in the market. Same thing is true for Bhutanese books- Bhutanese cannot market his/her books without BICMA registration numbers. And while both the books carry ISBN numbers, isn't it unfair for a Bhutanese book to have both the registration number and ISBN? Where is the justice? (5 vs. 500)

      Of course, again - I am not saying this because I have any grudges against any booksellers in Thimphu or elsewhere – that people should understand. In fact, my organization buys thousands of titles every year to stock our community libraries across the country.

      I understand how bookstore owners feel. I am bringing out this issue for some argument's sake. And I know that the authority will rethink and do away with the idea of having to register all international books. “Strike iron when it is hot”, goes an old adage and that's what we are doing exactly - to underscore the importance of government support for local writers. That way maybe the authority would rethink on having to register Bhutanese titles altogether. Otherwise there was no other way, you see.

      One argument that does not hold water is this – for example, say a bookstore has some 1,000 books published outside Bhutan and if the bookstore goes by the rule, he/ she has to pay Nu. 5,000 to register all titles. But what if a Bhutanese publisher wants to publish 1,000 books? Imagine how much he would be paying?

      Thanks again!

    3. I support your argument that the whole registration fee system be scrapped, if that was what the intent of your original post was. I would still argue that the two charges aren't quite equivalent, but I will concede that they are equally ridiculous.

      I was, however, concerned by certain sections of your article that assumed a rather resentful tone towards the scrapping of the charges on foreign books. It also seemed to imply that for booksellers to make any profit from selling books is an unfair practice (yes, they are business people and that is how they earn their living- do we all not have jobs we do in exchange for money?), and also that it is undesirable for Bhutanese children to read any foreign content.

      The Bhutanese literature scene needs and deserves a lot of support and encouragement, but that does not mean we should belittle what isn't Bhutanese, or anybody who enjoys foreign content.

      Thanks for replying to my comment- it clarified what you actually intended to say. I only wish your original post had not adopted such a divisive tone.

      No hard feelings, I hope!

    4. This is getting interesting - nowhere did I attempt to belittle international books or suggest that our children should never lay their hands on them. I never said that. All I am saying is both the national or international books must be provided an equal platform, which is not so at the moment. We are only asking if the government scrapes off registration fee for imported books, don't the books published in Bhutan deserve the same treatment?

    5. Yes, I agree with you on that. About the other stuff, maybe I was just reading too much into your original post. Sorry for the bother.

      Keep writing. Cheers.

  6. Beautiful post sir.
    Hope the concerned authority would listen to us.

  7. Beautiful post sir.
    Hope the concerned authority would listen to us.

  8. Thanks for sharing some light on this issue. But do they have any reasons for letting Bhutanese authors to pay Nu.500 against that Nu.5 for foreign titles? Just curious to know la.

  9. You have raised your voice, I'm sure that the govt will react on it and make better changes... Keep up la!

  10. We heard you, and now its them who should be listening.


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