Are Shia Books expensive?
The intention of writing this blog is to make our esteemed readers aware of the true cost in publishing books! This question has been asked multiple times in various forums and we thought it would be a great opportunity to lay it all out!
However before we go into the reasons we need to preface it with the following very important points:
- Publishing and distributing Islamic books will never make the vendors ultra rich! You will never see a vendor or publisher driving around in a Ferrari (or indeed a new Toyota!) from selling Islamic books! Those who go into this industry are passionate about spreading the word of Islam and it often costs more than than they make.
- Exorbitant profits (Overcharging) are prohibited in Islam (as that is a form of exploitation) whereas undercharging also is discouraged (in the form of mismanagement or underestimating ones expenses)
So this comes to the question. Are Shia books expensive? We will try to answer this below to the best of our ability.
1- Poor understanding of value
It is unfortunate that over the past 20-40 years, many large publishing houses have been mass producing shia books of substandard print and editorial quality. Many have the notion that books need to be cheap to reach far. This misguided belief has led to:
- Poor Publishing- where lack of investment in distribution, translators, editorial oversight, print quality, formatting etc. have rendered some of the most exquisite books of the Shia world unworthy of being read, either collecting dust in Islamic Centres around the globe or simply languishing in home libraries, never having being read or analyzed (as you need several dictionaries opened to understand the text!)
- Poor appreciation of value by the community- Value in our world is often measured in cost. The flood of cheap books has meant that the community has significantly undervalued literature even to the extent of demanding it for free! This not only has stifled the industry, it has severely hampered long term investment and sustainability of the industry such that many of the larger publishers are now struggling to make ends meet.
- Wilful ignorance of copyright: When one gets forwarded a digital copy of a book (on watsapp or other social media) or seeks out a PDF copy, one should know that this robs the author, publisher and eventually community as a whole.
Our great scholars and maraj'e used to spend a significant portion of their meager income on books valuing each book published and often spending large amounts of money to procuring rare or high quality books.
2- Expensive is relative
Students in higher education are often required to budget up to $800 per semester just for text books with each book costing well over $100. Similarly, a family would have no problem in forking out $300+ for a meal for their family of 5 at a restaurant or spend $1000+ to a trip to IKEA! Comparative to such expenses, the value of a good book that helps one navigate this life and the next is lifelong and often priceless!
3- Real costs
The Shia community is a relatively small community in the globe. To sell 5000 copies of a book in its lifetime is considered relatively good. However, top best selling books aimed at a general mass audience in the west can sell as many as 5,000 a week! This means that the overall printing and distribution costs are significantly reduced- Usually under 1/10th of the cost of printing a small amount of books or printing on demand). To illustrate, a Shia book retailing for $25 incurs the following costs:
- Tax - $2.5
- Cost of printing- $7
- Cost of shipping and customs to distributor - $2
- Exchange rate costs - $0.5
- Whole sale discount - -$7.5
- Profit per book - $5.5 (split between the translator, author and publisher.)
These costs do not even include any capital costs, salaries, marketing costs, fixed costs such as rent, telephone, website costs, transaction costs etc. To ensure viability and sustainability, it is essential for buyers to actively promote and support publication initiatives.
4- Benevolent individuals and associations
The great thing about Shia books is that most if not all books are written or translated at the behest of an individual (or group) or organization seeking perpetual reward. Whatever meager 'profit' earned is often pumped back into not-for-profit ventures, be it new publications, welfare support, hosting Majalis or educational program and so on. Unlike profit making organizations where a small portion of people benefit immensely, in this case the whole community benefits!
In our journey so far, we have come across passionate authors, translators, publishers and distributors of Islamic literature. The one thing common to all is their passion for bringing the true light of Islam and the Ahlul Bayt to every household.
We encourage all readers and buyers to genuinely consider that with their purchase, they are supporting a constellation of genuine mumineen. Your support means that a scholar somewhere does not have to beg to put food on his family's table and a translator does not have to do menial jobs to make his/her ends meet.
Supporting scholarship in the community means that we become a stronger more resilient community. We genuinely appreciate our regular patrons and our customers who have supported the development of new initiatives to improve readership and quality publications!