Books should not be cheap

Agnes Winarti wrote a report at the Jakarta Post yesterday that book publishers and literature advocates demand the government to support the book industry with cheaper paper price, and to give more lenient tax on printing, sales and royalties that will enable readers to get cheaper quality books.

The report says that publishers have to offer discount between 35-45 percent, sometimes 50%, to distributors, which is high but to me it is probably reasonable. Distributors have to bear certain costs, such as transportation, inventory, warehousing, promotion, provision for damaged and obsolete books, the opportunity lost for slow-moving books, and other overhead costs.

Indonesian books are already much cheaper than the imported ones, and the number of books sold per title is not that high as the habit of buying and reading books by Indonesians is far behind other countries. It means that the distributor's profit may not be that big.

The price structure of a typical book can be 35% allocated to distributors and stores, 30% for printing, 25% for the publisher and 10% for the author. The question is whether there is a way to reduce the price, and whether we have to bring down the price and how low will that be.

Books shouldn't be cheap. Even if we can find ways to reduce costs for the distributors, printing companies and publishers, the savings shall be allocated entirely to the authors. This way, more quality books can be expected to hit the stores.

A typical half-day basic course may cost participants around Rp.500,000, only to get a few learning points and a piece of paper with their names on it. It may not always be the case, but most of the benefit of training and seminars actually go to the trainers and speakers, not to the participants.

With that amount of money, people can buy a couple of books and get a lot more wisdom. The question is whether the reading habit is there. I'm not against training and seminars by the way, as there are some real values in them, such as to serve as motivational tools, escapes from boring work environment and also good places for networking, but we need to be selective, and training providers shall improve their quality of teachings and facilitation processes.

The industry shall focus more on promoting the habit of reading while trying to reduce production and distribution costs. To serve those who have less money to buy books, we need to encourage people to sell or donate their books after reading instead of keeping them in personal libraries with slim chances to reopen it, and create more secondhand book markets.

Instead of asking the government to subsidize the price of paper, the industry needs to promote the habit of reading e-books and listening to audio-books. More virtual bookstores are then needed, and the government shall move faster to cut significantly the cost of Internet connections.

Cheaper books is not the solution for the industry and the society. More creative approaches shall be explored to bring the books, in whatever formats they are, to reach more people.

, seorang pejalan musiman dan penyuka sejarah. Penduduk Jakarta yang sedang tinggal di Cikarang Utara. Diperbarui: April 26, 2008.

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