Publishers in Bangladesh are planning to cut back on printing creative books as paper prices have increased in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Some of them are thinking about reducing the number of copies to be published in the annual Ekushey Book Fair only two months away.
Some others are considering raising book prices to cover the rising cost of production and living.
Like other sectors, the publishing industry suffered a setback during the coronavirus pandemic. The instability in the paper market dealt another blow to the industry.
At Banglabazar in Dhaka, the largest book market of the country, most of the publishers are disappointed as they are struggling to publish new books.
Ahmed Mahmudul Haque, the publisher of Mawla Brothers, feels that even if they overcome the impact of the coronavirus lockdowns, the unbridled price of paper will again cause losses.
“We reprint books regularly, but it has become a difficult task for me now, although it is very much necessary to reprint many of our old books that are out of stock now. If we print the books anew, prices will rise. We'll need to think if the readers will be able to buy these books.”
In this situation, this seven-decade-old publication cannot even take the risk of publishing books by new authors.
"The efforts we constantly make to give opportunities to newcomers will also be disrupted. If the price of paper is not at a sustainable level, the publishing industry and other related sectors will also suffer. The government should monitor these issues.”
For most of the publishers, the business of printing books is centred on the Ekushey Book Fair. But the activities usually seen in Banglabazar months before the fair slated for February are absent this time.
"I still can't tell how many new books we can give. We'll try to print, but I cannot say how much we will be able to put together,” said Mahmudul. Mawla Brothers prints 60 to 70 books for the book fair every year.
Mazharul Islam, the proprietor of Anyaprakash, said he needs to do some calculations to check how much the price will go up against the purchasing power of people before starting to print books for the fair.
"Usually we print 100 books for the fair. This time we will print 30 to 40 books,” he said, noting that paper price has doubled.
He thinks that this paper price increase will have a big impact on the book market.
“There are few readers of creative literature. If the price increases, the readership will decrease. Publishers will also suffer.”
Monirul Haque, publisher of Ananya Prakashani, said the price of one ream of paper was was Tk 1,700. The price has increased to Tk 3,400.
“The price of everything is going out of control day by day. As a result we cannot think about the cost.
“The paper vendors are saying the price will increase. No one is controlling it. The only excuse is the dollar crisis. How much is that affecting the market? There should be a limit."
In this situation, Ananya Publications will not be able to print more than 5 per cent of the books it had planned to take to the book fair.
Osman Gani, former president of Bangladesh Knowledge and Creative Publishers Association, alleged a syndicate of businesses was increasing paper prices. He thinks the rise in paper price will lead the publishers to cut printing by 50 per cent.
“When the time comes for book fair and textbook printing, the paper mill owners get together and increase the prices. They are taking advantage of the situation,” said Gani, who runs Agami Publications.
He demanded government steps to break the syndicate and reduce paper import taxes.
President of Bangladesh Book Publishers and Sellers Association, Arif Hossain Chhoton said the price of paper used by the publishers for creative books has increased to Tk 135,000 per tonne from Tk 80,000. “Many of us won’t be able to publish books if the price increases again.”
Every year, publishers bring books worth Tk 7-8 billion to the book fair, but the amount will go down to Tk 5 billion this time, he said.
The association is thinking about raising book prices by 25 per cent, he added.
Ahead of the Ekushey Book Fair 2023, the Bangladesh Authors Readers Publishers Council will brief the media about the crisis soon.
They have a proposal to reduce the book fair stall rent to Tk 10,000 from Tk 18,000 with incentives if necessary to compensate for the losses in the current crisis.
Masul Islam Neel, member secretary of the council, said, "Publishers have suffered due to the abnormal increase in the price of paper and the increase in other expenses.”