Saturday, May 19, 2012
High Cost of Books....
The development of a nation certainly depends on a good reading habit among its citizens. The intellectual capacity of the nation's population as a whole will determine the level of progress a nation can achieve, quite irrespective of its wealth in natural resources. Even when the elites of a nation are very well-educated and well-trained, if the masses lag behind in their self-education through reading, the wheels of change and progress can be slowed down very much.
One is never surprised to see people reading a book while traveling in a plane, train, cars and buses in the western countries. The habit has also caught on in Japan and urban China. I mean just ordinary citizens, not professors, executives, teachers, students etc for whom reading is a must and is their job. But in the developing countries, to see an ordinary citizen (not the elites mentioned)glued to a book while traveling, sitting in a coffee=-shop or resting under the shade, is quite a rare sight. Reading a newspaper, a magazine or some promotional advertisements and colorful consumer handouts, yes. But not a book, a novel or some professional magazines.
Why? There are a thousand and one reasons. Public transports are normally packed in the developing countries, uncomfortable and no air-conditioning.The temperature is often very high and people are sweating. Even the air-conditioned restaurants and cafes are often too crowded to promote a reading habit or the lightings are not that conducive. In some cases the piped music is just deafening. And now in this age of electronic gadgetries, people would rather talk on their handphones, listen to their favorite music and songs, or watch the TV rather than do some lonesome reading.
Nonetheless the government and book publishers are certainly doing their best to promote a healthy reading habit among the populace, as is the case in Malaysia.Writers are being encouraged to write, publishers are encouraged to publish more books on general knowledge, book festivals are being held every now and then, awards are given out for writers, funds issued to support publication etc, etc. No complain there.
But, look at the cost price of books as written on the covers. Any good book certainly costs more that RM20-RM30. The cheap sales and discounted prices are of course available but such books are often not to palatable to read ( with the exception of used books, of course). You need at least a hundred bucks to get a few good books. Even Dr Mahathir's book, Doctor in the House, is not something that you can acquire with the balance of your budget for the supermarket to buy necessary household items. Of course a hundred bucks for books is nothing to those earning a four or five figure income. What about those earning at or just above the minimum wage? Remember that there are also the text books to buy for the kids. And are they really cheap? Not for those in the higher forms. Oh yes, the government did issue a RM200 coupon to assist parents in buying books for their school children. But we are talking about books for the average citizens, those that make up the majority of the population.
Admittedly the books are printed on expensive glossy papers with elaborate cover designs. Are we trying to produce books for library decoration or of reading. Why don't we publish on cheaper newsprints of a higher quality than some cheap books produced in the Philippines, India and Indonesia.If books can be bought at less than RM20, I think more people will buy them..and hopefully read them. One reason for the books being too costly is because the distributors take some 30-50% of the sale price. Dewan Bahasa set the standard in this matter and all publishers must accept the example to get their books sold. The government should look into this issue as a matter of urgency as well as the issue of the skyrocketing price for houses. Unless there is some control in this matters, the recent increases in pay would not mean much in terms of promoting the reading habit in Malaysia, while housing developers become filthy rich catering for the wealthy.