Ekushey Boi Mela-2021 concluded on Monday, two days earlier than the previously announced date, with publishers claiming huge losses.
The decision to hold the fair amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic had brought some relief to the publishers, as it is considered one of their most profitable occasions for their business. But, in the end they are left out with massive losses due to plummeting sales, with some claiming sales below 20%.
The number of publications fell dramatically as well.
According to data by Bangla Academy, a total of 2,640 books have been published in this year's book fair, including 64 books published on the last day. Last year, the number of published books was 4,919.
Many publishers are claiming to be forced to use their savings to meet the cost of paying sales staff, stall construction and decoration.
Touhidul Islam Pranta, stall in-charge of Anya Prokash, said, "Compared to last year, we did only 12% business this year. You can't even think of raising costs with it."
"In addition, due to various incoherence, including lockdown, the cost of transportation for 25 workers has doubled. Overall, it was not possible to raise the cost. Discussions are underway on how to pay the staff's dues," he added.
Terming this year's fair a book fair of maintaining continuity, Farid Ahmed, president of Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashak Samiti, said, "We wanted the fair to maintain that continuity in the golden jubilee year of independence. But the publishers themselves might not have wanted the book fair if they had known that this would happen."
Asked about the amount of loss in the fair, he said, "According to Bangla Academy, last year's book fair had a turnover of Tk85 crore. This time it will be around Tk12 to 15 crore. This time, only a few stalls have done business worth Tk10 lakh."
Farid said publishers want the government to buy books from them in order to recover the loss.
"We are not seeking loan facilities like other sectors. We want the government to buy books from us and keep the publishers afloat. There are various government departments where books are needed. The government can do it if it wants."
Initially, publishers were optimistic about the crowd of book-lovers coming to the fair. However, as the Covid-19 situation intensified across the country, sales started to fall. Publishers are blaming the early closure of stalls for their loss.
Sales Executive of The University Press Limited (UPL) Md Jarif Hossain said, there has been some sales during the final days. But sales plummeted in the earlier days.
"We came and left with no buyers coming. The fair closed at such a time when everyone usually comes," he said.
In the face of such a situation, several publications have closed their stalls during the lockdown.
"Although we didn't have to close our stalls, we failed to sell one-fifth of the last year's sale amount," he added.
Among the state-run publications, several stalls of Bangla Academy and their permanent sales outlets have sold books worth Tk44.64 lakh at this year's book fair [excluding the last day].
Ratan Kumar Banik, stall in-charge at a government publications and sell centre, owned by the Department of Printing and Publishing, said, "Last year I sold books worth more than Tk2 lakh on the occasion of the book fair. This year, I sold books worth only Tk30,000, while it cost Tk55,000 to complete the stall."
Amar Ekushey Boi Mela, usually held in February, was postponed till late March this year considering the Covid-19 situation in the country. After a long delay the fair began from 18 March with plans to conclude on 14 April. However, amid the rise in Covid-19 infections in the country it ended two days ago on Monday.