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Special Feature

The economics of books

By M H Haider
Photo: Palash Khan
Photo: Palash Khan

The increasing prices of books over the years has been a common complaint of many readers. While there is no escaping that this is indeed true, the question of how rational and reasonable this price hike is, and whether it is affecting readership among the general people, are worrisome questions that need to be addressed.
In the course of economic development, inflation is claimed to be inevitable. This general price hike will also include, and affect, the price of goods and services produced by particular industries -- and the publishing sector is no exception.
"The cost of running and maintaining a press has become expensive nowadays. Hence, prices of books too have increased," opined Shahidul Islam Bizu, proprietor and CEO of Pathak Shamabesh.
Meanwhile, cost of raw materials and other economic factors have also contributed to the inflated prices of books. "Publishers generally import paper but due to depreciating fluctuating and exchange rates, the cost of import has increased substantially," elaborated Bizu.  
The quantity of books sold also has an effect on price. It seems that publishers cannot enjoy economies of scale (i.e. minimised average production cost when producing in larger quantities).
"Normally a higher academic publisher gives a print run of 500 copies, so the cost per unit goes up considerably, but if one can print 5,000 copies, the cost comes down to a huge extent. Effectively, one needs to add more ink and paper while the other expenses remain more or less constant," Bizu claimed.
"The government has no subsidy plan and even the media gives no support n promoting creative works. Publishers can only sustain if the government/NGOs and media come forward and show empathy and support major works," he concluded.


"When I was an adolescent, I used to read a lot of books from a certain publication house. I was a voracious reader of its books. One of the biggest reasons was that they were cheap," recalled Sabbir Siddique, a newspaper journalist. "Although my grandmother, who encouraged me to read, would've bought me books anyway, I think if books are cheap, people will be more drawn to."
If you want to reach the masses, price of books ought to be cheaper.
On the other hand, Silvia Afroz, a supervisor at an advertising agency said, "People who read books will read anyway, and the increasing prices never deter them from buying books. However, in order to encourage reading among the masses, more attractive prices could be beneficial."
Tanvir Ahmed, a college student and an avid reader, tries to survive in the limited pocket money his parents provide, using his own little 'policy' on purchasing books. "I visit the book fair every year but I rarely buy from there, albeit newly launched books. I go to Nilkhet and buy second-hand at half the original price, and of course I can resell to get a chunk of the spent money back."
Looking for cheaper substitutes is a common and arguably a rational behaviour of consumers, and books, for some people, don't an exception to this rule.           
"Nowadays, I just download Bangla e-books. It's free and it's convenient," Sujit Das, an university student, confessed.
However, e-books are not yet very popular in our country; the mass acceptability of reading from an e-book still has a long way to go.
They say you can never become poor by buying books. Well, you cannot, in the sense of knowledge you earn. You'll be, in fact 'richer'. And knowledge ought to be spread among the masses.
Regardless of the effect prices of books have on readership, one thing's for sure: it's high time that we promote and raise the much-needed awareness about the joy and culture of reading. This should lead to an increase in readership -- and that is when we, as a people, can call ourselves truly 'rich'.

Special thanks to Shahidul Islam Bizu, proprietor and CEO of Pathak Shamabesh
 

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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