The Bangla Academy has postponed Amar Ekushey Book Fair 2021, considering the Covid-19 pandemic situation.
To curb transmission of coronavirus amid the fear of a possible second wave of infections, the academy may decide to hold the next edition of the month-long book fair – organised in February every year – virtually.
The Bangla Academy on Sunday will take a final decision in this regard. It will also send a proposal to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs to hold the fair online.
"The authorities have reached the decision after observing that coronavirus cases are on rise in the country," Habibullah Siraji, director general of the Bangla Academy, told The Business Standard on Saturday.
However, publishers have expressed their disappointment at the decision of the Bangla Academy and demanded that the forthcoming fair be organised as usual like in the previous years.
They will hold a meeting with the Bangla Academy on Sunday to place their demands.
Publishers say the publishing sector will have to face an adverse impact if the fair is not held or held virtually.
According to Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity and Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashok Samity, the publishers will face financial losses worth at least Tk50 crore if the fair is not held physically in February.
The Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity also fears that at least 60% of the publishers will be compelled to shut down their businesses if the fair is held virtually or not held.
Monirul Haque, executive director of Bangladesh Gyan and Srijonshil Prokashok Samity, told The Business Standard, "We do not want a virtual fair. The schedule of the fair might be changed but we do not endorse the decision to hold it virtually."
"We are still in a dilemma. The Bangla Academy has not informed us of its decision to hold the fair online. It will not be good for us. We will sit with the academy authorities on Sunday to persuade them to organise the fair physically," he said.
The publishing sector is in a bad shape now, he mentioned. "Publishers are passing very crucial times. Most of them will be compelled to leave the sector if the fair is held online," he added.
Shaymol Pal, vice-president of Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity, said, "The publication business has been in a difficult situation since March this year. The sector is just trying to survive. It will fall in peril if the fair is held virtually."
Few book lovers and readers will buy books online, he said, adding they will not be able to recover their expenses by participating in a virtual fair.
"We were waiting for the upcoming Ekushey fair and have invested our money targeting the fair. We will lose everything, if we cannot fulfill our target.
"I fear the creative business is not ready to receive any more shock. It will be ruined if the fair is not held physically. More than 60% will be compelled to leave the profession," he continued.
Pointing at that everything including shopping malls, cinema halls, is on, he wondered why the book fair will not be physical.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Pushtak Prokashok Bikreta Samity and Bangladesh Gyan and Srijanshil Prokashok Samity have submitted memorandum to the Bangla Academy to hold the fair in person.
The winter season will end in the first week of February and there is a possibility to get the vaccine by this time therefore the fair can be held physically, they said, adding that book lovers, buyers and organisers will follow the health guideline.
They have also demanded reduction of stall booking fees in the upcoming fair.
In 2020, the land earmarked for the fair had been expanded to 8,00,000 square feet, while 873 units were allotted to 560 organisations.
Of them, 179 units on the Bangla Academy ground were allotted to 126 organisations, and 694 units at the Suhrawardy Udyan to 434 organisations. Moreover, 34 pavilions were allocated to 33 publishing houses.
The Bangla Academy made arrangements to display and sell books by small publishing houses and at individual level at 25% commission in the stall of the National Book Centre.
According to the Bangla Academy and publishers, the total turnover was more than Tk80 crore in the last edition of the fair, while over 5,000 new books were published.
The turnover was about Tk80 crore also in 2019 and 2018, which was Tk65 crore in 2017 and Tk40 crore in 2016.
The Amar Ekushey Book Fair began informally on the Bangla Academy premises in 1972.
In 1978, the academy officially took the responsibility of organising the fair every year. It was named Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela in 1984 and a guideline was formulated in the same year.
In 2013, the fair venue was extended to Suhrawardy Udyan in a bid to accommodate more publishers and book lovers.