The Financial Express

Bangladesh's publishing industry hit hard by pandemic

| Updated: March 12, 2021 20:28:47

Bangladesh's publishing industry hit hard by pandemic

Country's publishing industry is in dire straits due to the prolonged closure of educational institutions in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The closure has cut down the sales of publishing houses by over 70 per cent, the industry people have claimed.

Although many educational institutions continued their classes using the digital platforms, it did not help the publishing industry much.

The sale of all categories of books declined to less than one-third of the usual one. The downturn also affected the allied businesses such as printing, binding and other relevant logistics, insiders have said.

Many workers, including the skilled ones, involved in the printing and publishing industry lost their jobs. The owners of the publishing enterprises also failed to receive any support from the formal financing institutions.

According to the publishers and booksellers, the sector having great potential has witnessed job cut, ranging between 20 per cent and 70 per cent at various levels.

During a visit to the Nilkhet Book Market, the FE correspondents found a small number of people moving around, while traders were trying their best to draw the would-be buyers' attention.

This is an extremely unusual situation for the book sellers, especially during the month of February, Mafizur Rahman, a sales person of 'Boi Jogot' told the FE.

February traditionally has been a peak month for the book stalls, he said.

The sale has gone down to one-third of the usual period.

"On an average we used to make sales worth Tk 25,000 per day, whereas the daily turnover has now come down to one-third," said Mr Rahman.

Even people destined for the Book Fair, which has been scheduled for an odd time this year, used to visit us for buying additional books, he added.

"When they come to us to procure the books prescribed by schools, they also buy other books like novels and books on religion," he said.

The situation is now somewhat better than the previous months since the easing of the lockdown. But it is too far away from the usual, he added.

Fazlul Islam, a buyer was seen looking for some reference book for his fourth grader son at the New Paltan School.

He said he has been trying to keep his son's academic activities uninterrupted by any means though the school is still closed.

Md Mizanur Rahman Helal, an outgoing director of Nilkhet-based Islamia Market Traders Multipurpose Cooperative Society, said book related businesses including publications and sales, are the only sector still struggling due to the pandemic.

"Almost all other sectors are now recuperating or have made a significant recovery, while we are not that hopeful about our businesses in near future," said Mr Helal also owner of Life Publishers.

A good number of traders have already deserted the business, while most others are struggling in a very hostile environment.

Moreover the traders, mostly micro or small, are not eligible to access the formal financing.

In fact, there are around 100 companies who publish textbooks, syllabus and Sohaika or help guides, for students from class-1 to class-12. But five companies - Lecture, Panjeree, Onupam, Puthiniloy and Jupiter hold nearly 70 per cent of the market shares.

Seeking anonymity, an official at Panjeree Publications said its market size is around Tk 1.0 billion alone in Dhaka metropolitan area but their sales declined by 75 per cent following the covid-19 setback.

And the poor business turnover has led to job cut by at least 20 per cent, he added.

After losing the business during the last season, the publishers thought the situation would improve this year with the opening of the educational institutions, but, unfortunately, that is not happening, the publisher of Universal Publications, Kazi Shah Alam, said.

"So, we're in disarray losing two back-to-back peak seasons. We're now really scared about our existence in the market," he said.

Explaining the sorry state of his own business entity, Mr Alam said there were around 50 staff members working for the publications several months ago. He was forced to cut the tally to only two because of the massive decline in sales.

"Now, I am spending time in the association's office doing nothing. The situation remains almost the same for other publishers," he added.

Former vice-president of Bangladesh Publishers and Book-sellers' Association (BPBA) Kazi Jahrul Islam Bulbul said the government recently revised the syllabus, which was the last 'nail in the coffin' because they thought they would re-release the books in the market in new look with making some modifications.

As the new academic season comes, booksellers have returned huge stock of the unsold books to the publishers, he said.

"And we have no alternative but to sale these returned books in kilograms to scrap traders," he said.

When asked about the stimulus package introduced by the government to protect the business from adverse impact of the pandemic, Mr Bulbul said companies having banking transactions are eligible to receive the fund.

"But most publishers do not have such credit operations with the bank. Only a few have continued business taking formal credit and the banks are now feelling shy doing business with them," he added.

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