Photo: Daily Sun

The news that the gamut of our Amar Ekushey Boi Mela has been increasing every year is a wonderful one. As a Bengali, I feel extremely proud when I think that we hold the largest and the most participatory book fair in the world.
The time of the fair is also a most befitting one: It is held in a month when our valiant martyrs gave their lives in order to sanctify our mother tongue Bangla.
The more gratifying aspect related to the February book fair is that it is spreading across the country. The fair is now arranged in many districts of Bangladesh. I’m eagerly waiting to see a time when our book fair would be held in all the districts of the country.
It has been reported in a Bangla newspaper that the number of new books, new publishers, and the sales of books have been increasing over the years. The profit-making book industry is slowly taking shape. In five years’ time, the sale of books has increased five times.
At the same time, the number of new books being published has also increased. In 2014, the number of new books was 2,959; in 2015, it went up to 3,700. In 2016, the authors of Bangladesh had published 3,444 books which became 3,646 in 2017. And in 2018, the number of new books stood at 4,591.
The sale of books has also increased over the years. According to Bangla Academy, the publishers sold books worth Tk16 crore in 2014. In 2015, revenue from book sales stood at Tk21.95 crore which went up to Tk42 crore in 2016. In 2017, books worth Tk65 crore were sold during the fair. And in 2018, the revenue went up to Tk70.50 crore.
Isn’t that amazing?
Now, let’s look at the number of participating publishing houses. Bangla Academy has selected a total of 550 publishers who would have their outlets in this year’s book fair. The number is 45 more than that of last year.
That’s also very encouraging.
All indicators show an upward turn. What news can be more positive and encouraging than that? Now, let’s come to the issue of this change and its social impact. How are the people and the country being benefitted from this?
Do more sales mean that the people at large have started reading more books? Have the authors of Bangladesh finally started making some money?
I spoke to a few acquaintances of mine, asking them about the nature of the readers. They opined that most people don’t read the books; the books have now become decorative “goods” that are being showcased in the drawing rooms of almost every household of the country.
I also had talks with some buyers at the fair last year. Many of them replied that they don’t read the books; they just buy them.
Now, buying is also an encouraging sign. Maybe some day they might want to read them, seeing as they already are arranged in their drawing room shelves.
However, the most annoying aspect that disturbs me is the fact that the publishers of so many books don’t pay any royalty to their authors. According to a Bangla Tribune report last year, 70% of the authors actually pay the publishers to publish their books.
The other 30% of the writers in whose work the publishers had shown interest to publish them never actually come to know how many of their books were being sold. Only a handful of authors get paid when they hand over their manuscripts to the publishers.
The practice of paying the publishers to publish your books implies that anyone who can spend can become a writer, compromising the quality of publications. This also tells the tale of a weak publishing industry. If the authors are not paid, the literature will suffer.
This needs to be addressed by an authority that would also monitor the publishing industry. If Bangla Academy creates an opportunity for the publishers to do business in the academy’s arena, it should also direct the publishers to pay their respective writers.
The government has come a long way in straightening various sectors across the country; it has all sorts of regulatory authorities for all the sectors. Why wouldn’t it also care for the country’s authors who could make a decent living if the publishers had paid them what they deserve?
It looks like the incomes of the publishers are increasing every year; why would they then not pay their authors?
First published in Dhaka Tribune on 26 January 2019.

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