Publishers in Iran Use Ebooks to Circumvent Censors

In News by Dennis Abrams

Nogaam is one of the more audacious digital publishers in Iran.

Nogaam is one of the more aggressive digital publishers in Iran.

Upstart publishers in Iran are using ebooks and digital-only distribution as a way to circumvent government censors and reach willing readers.

By Dennis Abrams

The Guardian reports that while all the books on display at this year’s Tehran International Book Fair had been “vetted before publication and some heavily censored, as is routine for every book printed in Iran,” there was also a parallel, if unofficial Iranian book fair. But this one is online and free from censorship.

Iran, the article points out, is among the top 10 most censored countries, next to Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and China. But the digital age makes it easy for a growing number of authors, translators and publishers in Iran to go direct to the internet to publish their work and circumvent state censors. And with rising paper prices, more and more readers are buying ebooks, forcing Iranian State TV to begin labeling digital books as “a new threat that should be taken seriously.”

One such “threat” comes from an online publisher in Iran, Nogaam, which publishes ebooks that can be downloaded either from the publisher’s website or from Google Books. Its editor, Azadah Iravani, told the paper that it had published 25 titles since 2013, primarily by writers currently living in Iran who know they won’t be able to get their books published the traditional way because of censorship.

“If you’re in Iran and your book is rejected or censored to the bone than you had either to bin it or put it in a shelf to gather dust. So online publishers like Nogaam are giving people a new choice,” she said.

Selection of Nogaam's titles

Among Nogaam’s titles is a poetry collection by openly gay Payam Feili. Books are crowdfunded, and once the author is paid, titles are made available for free download.

Books can also be found in the EPUB format, which is readable on many book apps. One title, by satirist Ebrahaim Nabavi, has been downloaded at least 10,000 times. “It gives you a good experience of reading,” Iravani said. “It’s not like the old-fashioned scanned books that people could not read.”

James Marchant, who lead the research in a soon-to-be released report by London-based Small Media on book publishing in Iran called Writer’s Block, told The Guardian that with the rapid growth of internet and smartphone rates in Iran, there is an enormous potential for digital publishing to “revolutionize” the Iranian book market.

“E-publishing in Iran is still in its infancy, and there remains a fair amount of skepticism among writers and publishers as to its potential benefits,” he told the paper. “Despite this uncertainty, diaspora organizations and self-publishing authors inside the country are starting to find some success marketing eBooks,”

“There have been reports of self-published authors selling more than 10,000 copies of their books online, while Diaspora publishers such as Noam are helping to share banned books with Iranian readers via e-pub formats.”

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.