Why books are expensive
"Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure," read the first lines of Albert Camus' The Stranger. I stood in between a pile of books, my eyes glistening with an irresistible urge to buy this 123-page masterpiece. I felt the thick scratchy pages with the tip of my fingers and flipped them over. BDT 848, said the price tag. I gently tucked the book back into its place and left the store in a hurry.
There's no blaming anyone here. Books originally worth 10-15 dollars end up being around BDT 1000 by the time it reaches our bookshops. In a culture where you can buy the locally printed version of John Green's The Anthropocene Reviewed for 200 taka at stationery shops, even before the original one worth more than BDT 1100 hits the shelves, it's fairly natural for people to approach the cheaper and more accessible option.
Another choice might be to download the pdf from "free e-book libraries." However, the idea of books being cheaper or virtually free in digital form comes with a serious offence that has been normalised and practised in our society with convenience — piracy.
Access to pirated books and PDFs aside, being a bookworm in our country is a rather exorbitant delicacy. The majority of our younger generation start earning once they get into university, before which they rely on their parents' earnings, pocket money, and personal savings. Even in university, keeping other expenses in mind, one can only spend so much of their limited earnings on books. Original books being so expensive, buying locally printed copies is more of a necessity than a matter of choice.
A more serious problem arises regarding academic books. Original academic books are much more costly and inaccessible. In order to import educational items, domestic importers need to pay multiple charges including import duty, port charges, clearing and forwarding (C&F) agent charges, letter of credit (LC) charges, transportation costs and so on. An engineering student needs around six to eight books per semester. With each costing in the thousands, buying original books and international journals for educational purposes is often not an option. Our academia is thus highly dependent on the culture of consuming local newsprints, whiteprints, second-hand books and pirated copies.
Buying used, original books from Nilkhet or different Facebook pages might come off as a pretty convenient life hack. Old books are cheaper and more enjoyable to read than local prints. Though a way around piracy, it is usually not a feasible solution. Our government has already ensured free textbooks for primary and secondary level students which deserves a pat on the back. Reducing duties on imported books and subsidising the sector could help construct a piracy-free book culture.
As leisure reading drops to an all-time low, our existing readership desperately needs its books to be more accessible to the less privileged.
Remind Ifti to be quieter at firstname.lastname@example.org