Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reading, Publication and Development

A Shelve full of Books

I wonder if the reading habit has caught on at all in Malaysia after all the persuasion made by government for people to read more books. While the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka ( the National Language Agency) and the National Library had prompted people to become more friendly with the books, i don't see people walking around with a book in their hands and reading it while waiting for their name or number to be called out at public counters, while wating to be served at a restaurant or while waiting for a public transport. Reading while travelling in a bus, a car, a train or even in a plane is still a rare sight .
Why are we not as book-friendly as people in the more developed nations? Many possible reasons can be listed. Books are very expensive. Tun Dr.. Mahathir's latest book for example costs RM100. Some imported books of general knowlege cost more than RM 200 while technical or professional books can cost a few hundred rinngit. English novels cost more than RM30 each while Malay novel by local writers more than RM20.

More often the Shelve is full of Ornaments

Why are books so costly? Especially those written by local authors? One reason that i know is that they are printed on expensive print papers
And there are NO copies printed on cheaper newsprint, like books (especiaaly novels ) published overseas. I used to buy cheap textbooks for advanced studies from the Philipines or India printed on very cheap newsprints. And they were as good as the expensive ones. Another reason that I know personally is that the marketing cost imposed by distributors is vey high - between 40-50% of the cost of the book. I wanted to sell a novel that I wrote and published myself for only RM18 and a distributor asked for RM9 for every copy sold. Getting just RM9 for a copy would not cover even the cost of production, let alone earn somtihing from the writing. "If you want more, then raise the sale price of the book to RM30," said the sales agent ( in which case he'd want RM15 or a little less for each copy sold!). I was informed that the 'commission rate' was set on what Dewan Bahasa pays the distributors.
I also wonder what Dewan Bahasa and other publishers pay as honorarium for every book published and how much royalty is paid for each copy sold. I wonder if that has to do with why the National Laurette,A. Samad Said, launched a 'mogok seni' (refusal to write) some years ago. The question is: Are local writers getting an adequate reward for their effort? When sportsmen and sportswomen are being paid so handsomely for bringing a good name to the nations, is the contribution of the writers being given the same recognition or is their conrtibution to the nation considered less significant?
The Director of the National Library, if I'm not mistaken, has announced some time ago that the government has allocated some RM300,000 for writers who would undertake some work for publication. This was supposed to be an incentive to produce more books for the nation. How would the payment be made, how much and when, had not been explained. While the intention is honorable I wonder if the amount set aside is enough to cause new and established writers to pick up their pen and begin to write "for money"?
That brings us to the last point which i want to mention viz. is the quality of the writing good enough to stimulate people to read, especially books on general knowledge and of a literary nature which people only buy and read if they are really interesting and well written.
i wonder how many English educated Malaysias really go out and buy Malay novels for their own reading pleasure and not for their children because the novels have been turned into a text book in school. Many of the novels that sell today belong to the category of romance for the young people. The more mature novels are often too dull to read as compared to the World's or New York's bestsellers. As of today only books on the teachings of Islam seem to be selling well in Malaysi and are coming out in abundance. Of course such books are not brought along whereever one goes for reading pleasure. Hence you don't see the Malays reading books at resting places, in the bus, train etc, or while sitting by the seaside enjoying the breeze. The English educated Malaians might of course be reading some English books, novels or magazines.
Well, i think the government and government agencies resposible for the development of Malaysian minds through reading and producing the reading materials, have to do a lot more than what they have so far done to improve the reading habits of Malaysians. Especially now when the internet offers a lot more interesting things to read than some of the locally produced reading materials. We need to reduce the cost of books and improve the quality of writing. When we have spent so much on improving many other aspects of development in the country including sports and recreational facilities, aren't we going to do just as much to stimulate the production of local reading materials to develop the Malaysian minds?


abdulhalimshah said...

It all boils down to habit forming upbringing at home. Just look at the new rich Malays who adorn their living rooms with expensive and at times oversized gold gilded furniture and show cupboards to flaunt their costly collection of souvenirs from their holidays abroad.
But they hardly have a library at home, not even the ordinary bookshelf in the house. So how can you encourage their children to love books. That is why I remember my teacher in KGV said, it was Napolean Bonaparte who said "bring me the child and I will tell you what their parents are". How very true.
It is not the price which deters reading basically, it is a consequence of the bad habit of wrong priorities, they are willing to spend a million on a Bentley but hardly any books could be found on their shelves. The values which the Malays espouse now is less on knowledge but more on entertainment and enjoyment.

Al-Manar said...


I ca imagine how stressful we as parents when something does not go as planned with our loved ones. If it is within ourselves we can find solace from AlQuran etc , hard with our loved ones. I think the poor boy is experiencing some kind of pressure, may be an imaginary one for that matter, within himself. Is there no help from those in the Malaysian Students' Dept for UK & Irelands; a friend there may halp.

Al-Manar said...

AKH Norzah,

I have by mistake posted above what should have been for our friend AKH. I am sorry. My commnent on your entry shoud be:

I have myself been wondering at the cost of local publications. You have experience in this field, having written a lot yourself. Could the limited sales by comparison be the higher prices?

norzah said...

"...they are willing to spend a million on a Bentley but hardly any books could be found on their shelves." How right you are on this point, Akhi. I myself have noticed many beautiful lounges or living rooms with gorgeous cupboards full of expensive silverwares, dining set, and crystals, Akhi. But no books. Only some magazines maybe. Books are not condidered an important item in the family collection.
Yes, it's a matter of habit as passed down to the young in the family. This is so for the less educated country folks throughout the country, especially the farmers, the rubber and oilpalm smallholders and the blue collar workers. But what about the more educated? Bookshelves full of books are never the highlght in most Malay homes.
But then this can also be the result of books being too expensive to buy. You cannot afford to buy all the books that you'd like to read and you just burrow them from friends or from the library. The upshot is that people only buy books when they have some money to spare and they like reading. Buying and readings book therefore remain very low on the priority of most Malaysians, except for the elites and the professionals.

norzah said...

I think you can delete a wrong entry, Pakcik, but i'm not sure when it's on someone else's wall. It does't matter anyway since you've explained why it's there. That the price of books is high because of limited publication is a possibility. But text books are produced in great quantity and yet the price is quite high. More importantly, are the writers in our country getting a fair return for the fruits of their labour or are the booksellers/distributors the greater beneficiary? No one seems to bother about this.

Goh Yoke Leng said...

The advantage of technology plays a vital role in re-forming folks reading habit. I do read a lot online reading materials which is not only for my MBA course but also for reading pleasure. Internet provides alternative for gaining knowledge when lots of people cannot afford to buy physical books.