Although nine days have passed since the month-long traditional Ekushey Book Fair kicked off more than a month-and-a-half late, in the wake of the pandemic, the premises of Bangla Academy and the historic Suhrawardy Udyan have yet to be crowded with visitors.
Publishers claim that sales are down by about 90% this year compared to those of a year ago.
Publishers and institutional authorities have attributed the low attendance by book lovers to the late start of this year's book fair and a further rise in novel coronavirus cases.
Although Friday was a weekly holiday, the attendance of visitors was not very high. The presence of book buyers and readers increased a little in the evening only.
Most pavilions and stalls saw no crowds except at two to three popular stalls. Many come to visit, spend time or flip through book pages.
Arun Das, director of Sahityamala Prakashany, told The Business Standard, "We have been participating in the fair for 43 years but it has never been as bad as it has this year."
"Last year I sold books worth Tk25,000-Tk30,000 on such days while this year it has become difficult to make a sale of Tk1,000 per day," he added.
Farooq Ahmed of Ananya Prokhashony told TBS that this year, sales are about 90% lower than those of last year, and it is difficult to meet book production costs.
Children's corner remains empty
There are 63 children's book companies at this year's book fair. There are hardly any children and teenagers at these institutions.
Riya Akhter of Danguli Prokashony told TBS the fair authorities did not put up Children's Corner separately this year as in previous years.
Around three to four books are sold every day while last year, books worth over Tk5,000 used to be sold each day, she added.
Jamil Hossain, who came to buy books for his kids, told TBS that earlier there was a separate corner in Sisimpur but this year there is a small shop there.
"I thought the fair would be unlikely this year, and so I decided to come over here alone and bought a few books. If my kids had come, they would have bought more," said Jamil.
Health rules fall on deaf ears
Although the fair authorities apply the "No Mask, No Book Sales" condition, and make it compulsory to enter the book fair in compliance with the health rules, the rules are being ignored while visitors take selfies or get autographs from authors and writers.
Although most visitors wear masks, they seem to have forgotten about social distancing.
At least 100 people gathered in front of Tamrolipi Publication to get the autographs and selfies of their favourite authors.
Asked about following health rules, they said there is nothing wrong with not following the hygiene rules for a short time.
"We are cleaning our hands with hand sanitiser frequently," added the visitors.
However, in addition to the initiative of an integrated team to make sure that nobody walks around the fair without a mask, an awareness campaign is also underway.
Amar Ekushey Book Fair started on 18 March on the premises of Bangla Academy and of the historic Suhrawardy Udyan covering 1.5 million square feet.
A total of 540 book publishing companies have been allotted 834 stalls at the fair. Additionally, there are also 32 pavilions of different organisations. Last year, 560 organisations participated in the book fair.
According to Bangla Academy, the fair will remain open from 3pm to 9pm every day till April 14, except for holidays. It will remain open on weekends or holidays from 11am to 9pm.
Shubhra Barua, a library assistant of Bangla Academy, told The Business Standard that a total of 1,084 new books have so far been added to the fair.
"We look forward to adding more new books in the coming days. The number of visitors was eye-catching today, compared to that of the previous days," he said, hoping that the sale will get momentum in course of time.