Iranians Embrace Ebooks to Combat Censorship

In Iran, ordinary words like “kiss,” “dance,” and “wine” can be cause for a printed book to be vetted and censored. Laws that would prohibit the publication of words such as these as well as legally empower the ministry of culture and Islamic guidance to make arbitrary editorial decisions regardless of context have made Iran the seventh most censored country in the world.

Publishers and patrons, though, have used technology to find a way around the ministry’s strict censorship laws: the widespread adoption of ebooks and other digital formats, including the formation of digital book fairs. Publishers like Nogaam and H&S Media have begun providing ways for readers to not only buy ebooks, but have also helped writers digitize their books so they can be made available through retailers like Google Books and Amazon’s Kindle Store.

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

Where this is really opening the arena for diversity and conversation in Iranian publishing is in the new types of content that are becoming more steadily available to the general public. Online publishers like Nogaam aren’t just making your average everyday book available. Along with your standard publications, they are also making works ranging from poetry by Payam Feili — an openly gay writer — to satirist Ebrahim Nabavi’s controversial titles.

“There have been reports of self-published authors selling more than 10,000 copies of their books online, while diaspora publishers such as Nogaam are helping to share banned books with Iranian readers via e-pub formats,” said James Marchant, lead researcher behind a report that examines Iran’s growing digital marketplace.

Although Iran’s digital age is in its infancy, more and more authors are taking advantage of the unique opportunities that the ebook can offer. Along with this increase in activity, though, will eventually come government awareness of the fact that these books are bypassing the censorship process. Iran has already instituted an increase in internet regulation with the blocking of websites for deemed inappropriate content, the imprisonment of journalists and writers, and even alleged public surveillance and monitoring through the setup of fake websites.

Publishing in the recent past has been and continues to be a risky business in Iran, but this won’t stop writers from embracing new forms of technology or means to bypass censorship laws and get their works out.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!