It is no more a news that newspapers and magazines are facing a new challenge posed by the internet as their print runs are dwindling fast and they are either to switch over to online editions or face extinction.
Except for a few countries such as India, the printed, ink-smelling editions of newspapers are giving way to trendy online versions, apparently because that’s where the advertising revenues are. Even the once-popular glossy magazines are feeling it more and more difficult by the day to keep afloat. One of the latest casualties is an oldie like ‘Newsweek’. The 80-year-old newsmagazine has decided to ‘fold’ its print edition by the end of 2012 and it will be available only online from 2013. Some of the Urdu magazines, too, are now available online and they includes ‘Urdu Digest’, a 52-year-old magazine from Lahore.
However, it is not only newspapers and magazines that are feeling the brunt. With online reading trends catching on and the popularity of new gizmos (like Booklet PCs that fold like books and Slate Computers that resemble writing slates) among the tech-savvy new generation, the future of printed books, too, apparently does not seem much bright. Though the rising trend of buying books online has helped sell more books in the West— print versions, too — it is still a far cry when it comes to Urdu books.
The Internet might have made a slight dent in the reading habits in Pakistan but books still sell here. Last week’s Karachi International book fair, as successful as last year’s, is an undeniable testimony to the fact that reading is still a popular pastime in our society and people do buy and read books. But, strangely enough, among our publishers “nobody reads the books these days” has become the catchphrase and many of them blame it on the internet and the mushroom growth of TV channels. Though, with due apologies, none of the publishers has wound up their publishing business and they keep on publishing new titles.
This writer feels that contrary to the claims made by Urdu publishers, Urdu publishing is thriving in Pakistan— if the number of new magazines launched and new books published every year is any standard to go by. In fact, we are witnessing a strange phenomenon appearing on Pakistan’s literary horizon: despite all the litany of complaints against dwindling readership, falling standards and all too expensive books and magazines, not only are the literary journals maintaining their publication, albeit somewhat tardily, but new literary Urdu journals too are coming up. It is true that many of the literary periodicals have to struggle and most of them have to give away a large number of complimentary copies — and some heavyweights such as ‘Nuqoosh’ had to close down — but then some old ones such as ‘Adab-i-Lateef’ (Lahore) and ‘Sayyaara’ (Lahore) are making their presence felt with new issues. ‘Adab-i-Lateef’, one of the longest-running literary journals of Urdu, completed 75 years of its publication a couple of years ago and, surprisingly, in addition to its regular monthly issues has brought out three special issues during 2012. ‘Sayyaara’, launched in 1962, has recently published its annual issue.
‘Az-Zubair’, a quarterly from Bahawalpur, is as old as ‘Sayaara’ and is regularly published.
Some not-so-old ones, such as ‘Mukalma’ (Karachi), ‘Roshnai’ (Karachi), ‘Dunyazaad’ (Karachi) and many others are not only regularly published but have a big following. Idara-i-yadgar-i-Ghalib’s journal ‘Ghalib’ has re-appeared after a gap of 12 years. Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu’s journal ‘Urdu’, launched in 1921 by Baba-e-Urdu, is somehow maintaining its publication and is about to bring its new issue. ‘Nigar’, launched in 1922 by Niaz Fatehpuri, is still surviving and is going to organise its annual function on the 22nd of this month. Even literary monthlies like ‘Qaumi Zaban’ (Karachi) and ‘Alhamra’ (Lahore) appear with clockwork regularity.
Comparatively new entrants include ‘Mizah plus’, a humour magazine published from Karachi; ‘Al-Ayyaam’, a research journal from Karachi and ‘Asaaleeb’, a literary magazine from Karachi. They are doing quite well. Al-Ayyaam’s new issue has just appeared. ‘Asaaleeb’ is planning a special issue. ‘Mizah plus’ has brought out at least 10 issues. As for new ones, from Lahore has appeared ‘Mabahis’, from Rawalpindi ‘Tehqiqaat-i-Urdu’ and ‘Intikhaab-i-Adab’ and from Faisalabad ‘Zarnigar’.
Interestingly, ‘Ijmaal’, a new literary journal from Karachi, had to face some difficulties right after first issue as a defamation suit was filed against it, but still it managed to bring out two more issues.
Some Urdu literary journals have recently published new issues. For example, ‘Ibaarat’ (Hyderabad, Sindh) has just published its annual, presenting a rich combination of creative pieces, critical essays and research articles. Quarterly ‘Al-tafseer’ was launched a few years ago from Karachi. It has just published its special issue named ‘Shakhsiyaat number’, presenting biographical details and personal glimpses of some prominent literary and religious personalities.
Most of these Urdu literary magazines are facing an uphill task and surviving is not easy for them, yet they are contributing their bit of work. Now this is quite an interesting situation: the general perception is that reading habits are on the decline, interest in the Urdu language and literature is waning and technology and the electronic media is eroding readership, yet Urdu’s literary magazines are not only surviving but hardly a year goes by when a few new journals are not launched. One feels that these conflicting trends need to be analysed as they provide an interesting topic of research for social scientists.