With an eye on the footpath

Without the colonial baggage, publishing in Nepal remains dominated by the vernacular.

Publishing in Nepal is generally thought to have begun when Jang Bahadur Rana, the founder of the Rana clan that would rule the country for close to a century, brought back a printer from a visit to Europe in 1850. However, much earlier than that, in 1821, the Mission Press in Serampore, in modern-day West Bengal, had published a Nepali-language translation of the Bible. In Nepal though, several books were printed only in the 1860s, among them the Muluki Ain (the Civil Code), and some translated versions of British military manuals, probably printed on the same press that Prime Minister Jang brought from England. Either way, these three factors would set the tone for Nepali publishing trends for the next two centuries: that the industry started with legal and military documents (implying government control over publishing), that it was in the Nepali language or translations into it, and that an important component of Nepali publishing took place in India.

By today, Nepal's publishing-and-printing industry has seen an impressive growth, particularly in the last two decades. According to one estimate, there are now some 2000 printing presses in Nepal, and around 700 in the Kathmandu Valley alone. This spurt in publishing coincides with a shift from treadle to offset presses during the early 1990s. The majority of these are small-scale enterprises, and today just a dozen presses have full-colour facilities with modern binding, folding and various lamination services. The industry, which has already seen investments of around USD 3.5 million, has been directly or indirectly providing employment opportunities to more than 100,000 people. A report by the Press Council of Nepal indicates that 85 percent of newspapers are printing on modern offset presses with desktop publishing facilities, with the remaining 15 percent still using old cold type and treadle presses. Despite obstacles, including problematic supply of electricity, printing paper and human resources, the industry's annual turnover of USD 170 million indicates a very healthy publishing sector.

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Himal Southasian