Budget 2022-23: Is the publishing industry only an inconsequential afterthought?
With the Russia-Ukraine war continuing and the (consequent) wave of inflation that has struck the world, serious concerns for our publishing houses have been raised–most of which, with much struggle, were gaining back their momentum as the pandemic slowly, seemingly, started dying down. Rising prices of essential commodities such as gas and oil means that soon, a major effect will become apparent on all levels in an industrial production process, and that includes–books.
The relationship between the publishing houses and the government is sewn in through the National Book Centre (Jatiya Grantha Kendro, or, NBC), which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The National Book Centre purchases books from publishers across the country and distributes them across public and private libraries. Data from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs dictate that a sum of BDT 10,38,100 (around USD 11,000) was allocated in the 2021-2022 fiscal year to NBC.
However, publishers have claimed that they either get no purchase orders or the order that they do get is quite small, leaving little to no impact.
On the other hand, almost 1,500 private libraries are listed under NBC's database. The prodding question we're left with is this: is the allocated sum for purchasing even merely enough to support our publishers in this grave time?
Contrasting the two figures, the answer lies in the negative. The Ministry also doesn't have any initiative or schemes for these publishing houses so far.
Besides, the other burgeoning issue now is the sourcing of the main component—paper. According to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Bangladesh is mainly an import dependent country for paper, and the local industry players pay around 47 percent in tax and duty if the total production cost is taken into consideration.
Mahrukh Mohiuddin, managing director of University Press Limited (UPL) said, "As publishers, a chronic crisis that we face is within the sourcing of the production materials, like ink, the printing plates, paper, etc. as prices are set quite high".
"The government, in order to develop our local paper houses, had imposed a 61-65 percent duty tax on imported paper," she said, further adding that while the reasoning behind this step seems to makes sense, "The local paper industry has taken advantage of this by hiking up their prices–so much so that their price is almost on par with imported paper." On the other hand, though, the quality of locally sourced paper is also quite inconsistent.
On this issue, Minar Mansur, director of NBC said, "Publishers need to bring these issues up during the recommendations taken at the National Board of Revenue in the pre-budget discussions and suggest ways in which we can support them. Their involvement during the budget making process is required."
This year's budget allocated 637 crore takas to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, of which 247 crore has been allocated under the development scheme.
"Of the budget, NBC is allocated 10 percent. Half of this fund is allocated to the development of the public libraries and with the rest we place orders for books," Mansur explained.
Osman Gani, freedom fighter and CEO of Agamee Prokashoni said, "Our budget needs to be an education-friendly one. Authorities need to focus on creating reading societies, so that the overall publishing sector can flourish."
State Minister of Cultural Affairs K M Khalid said on the issue of regulating paper prices, "This needs to be brought up with the Ministry of Commerce as it is within their jurisdiction. We don't have anything new in the budget for publishers apart from the previous initiatives taken."
Nazifa Raidah is the Sub-editor of City Desk at The Daily Star.