Few among the readers have a clear idea about the nitty-gritty of the country's publication sector. The annual February book fair featuring creative books provides them with the opportunity to get a picture of this sector. The month-long Ekushey Book Fair this year concluded on an upbeat note. Book-lovers thronged the event, with the rush soaring to its peak in the closing days. Most of the participating publishers were happy with the sales proceeds.
All these point to the fact that the country's publication industry is on way to coming of age. In some respects it already has. The quality of printing, paper and binding --- i.e. the overall production standard of local books has undergone significant changes. Compared to these publications, the books of the past appear to be pitifully amateurish. The country's publication sector has embarked on its full-scale journey in independent Bangladesh. The Ekushey Book Fair has considerably added to its pace. However, in a country blighted by low percentage of serious readers, there appear to be few reasons to feel euphoric over the long queues of visitors at book fairs. Disconcertingly enough, the craze for visiting the Ekushey fair is found to be surpassing the very books.
According to a number of publishers, books sell well at this fair. Detractors may not accept it bringing into question the taste and maturity of the average readers. As has been seen in the recent years, pulp fictions, collections of slipshod poetry etc dominate the fair's sales scene. Only a handful of readers are seen collecting thought-provoking books. This spectacle does not speak of the normal growth of a country's publication sector. A lot of people acquainted with book fairs abroad would feel tempted to see the fair as still languishing at its fledgling stage. But they are optimistic given the average educated people's rising enthusiasm over the event.
All this warrants a dispassionate stock-taking of the fair. The most critical argument that possibly may arise at this point is the role of the Ekushey Book Fair in the increase of readers in the country. The publishers customarily stick to their view that the Ekushey fairs do not disappoint them, as they enjoy handsome sales with remarkable profit margins. It points to a troubling reality as to whether the readers are buying the right kind of books. The habit of reading, indisputably, is among the sterling virtues of a nation. This nation does also have serious readers. But their miserably paltry number set against the general book fair clients makes many worried. If the educated people, especially the young, had started reading books in earnest, and it left a sobering effect on them, the present wholesale erosion of social and moral values ought to have long stopped. That it hasn't happened is no riddle. The conclusion could be that the much-trumpeted fair falls short of its supposed goal: creating a nation of readers.
The number of visitors to the book fair is increasing by the year; unfortunately, genuine readers are not. A number of publishers bring out books by acclaimed writers. But the flipside is lots of others churn out popular kitsch books which confuse common readers, the young in particular.
Alongside cultivating a healthy reading habit into the youths through promotional guidance the imperatives also involve the publishers. They need to throw wider focus on better books in every segment of literature and scholarship. And books should come out round the year. Buying popular publications on a festive occasion cannot be expected to help in the growth of a nation of readers. Moreover, the rising social media frenzy remains an obstinate threat. Publishers blame it for weaning people off printed books.