The number of books to be published for this year's Amar Ekushey Book Fair will be 40-50% less compared to the previous year, according to publishers and others involved in the publication business.
They, however, hope for good business in the fair scheduled to begin on 18 March.
Explaining the reason behind the low number of book releases, business insiders said many writers did not write manuscripts as they were in doubt about whether the book fair would be held this year amid the pandemic.
And, finally, when the date of the fair has been announced, writers are facing time constraints in preparing manuscripts targeting the fair, they added.
Moreover, publishers have adopted a cautious stand in releasing new books this time.
Meanwhile, the Bangla Academy has decided to inaugurate this year's Ekushey book fair on 18 March, even though it usually gets underway on 1 February every year. The fair will continue till 14 April.
Monirul Islam, owner of Ananya Prokashoni, told The Business Standard (TBS) that all business sectors had suffered more or less because of Covid-19 and the publishing sector was no different.
"I published around 150 books in the fair last year. This time, I will publish around 60 books. In fact, the main crisis is involved with the economy. The business was closed for almost a year. I will not take any risk in this situation. But I hope sales will be good this year."
Zafar Ahmed Rashed, CEO of Batighar Prokashoni, said the publishing firm had brought out 70 books last year but the number would be 40 this year.
What is more, several of the new releases of the publishing house will be old manuscripts which it could not publish last year.
Nonetheless, like Monirul, Zafar also expects good business in the forthcoming Ekushey book fair.
"Book lovers have been waiting for the fair for a long time. Although the number of books to be published this time will be less, we think sales of books will be more than what is being expected," Zafar added.
Meanwhile, not all publishers are publishing fewer books this year.
Mazharul Islam, chief executive of Anyaprokash, told TBS that the firm would release 100 books at this year's book fair. It published 60 books last year.
Publishers in financial crisis
The country's publishing houses were shuttered for about nine months due to the novel coronavirus. They did not receive any financial assistance from the government as the sector is not officially recognised as an industry.
Ever since the situation began to normalise, they too have been trying to turn around slowly but are suffering from a cash crunch.
Ahmed Farooq, owner of Priyo Mukh Prokashon, told TBS, "We publish at least 35-40 books every year but this year the number will come down to around 20. Because the business was closed for a long time, we're in a financial crisis. It will take another year to recover from the coronavirus' blow."
Visiting a number of publishing houses in Old Dhaka's Sutrapur, Banglabazar, Paltan, Segunbagicha, Kantaban, Nilkhet, Motijheel, Arambagh, Fakirapul and Gopibagh areas recently, TBS saw employees of some of the publishing houses spending an idle time.
Banglabazar is the largest book market in the country. There are about 400 publishing houses in the area. In all, there are about 2,000 bookshops in the area.
Not much busyness at printing presses
Visits to several printing presses in Banglabazar revealed that unlike other years there was no rush to print new books this year.
According to the press owners, printing presses usually have a festive atmosphere at this time of the year and have to work in two shifts. But this time the picture is different, they added.
Ashok Ranjan Pal, owner of Janata Printers on Piari Das Road, has been involved in the business for four decades.
He said, "We had a lot of work to do at the book fair last year. Compared to that, there is minimal work this year.
"There is only 20% work this time compared to other years. Last year, we printed around 300 books of different publishers. But this year, only 7 books have come so far. Three of our five machines are sitting idle.
At Piari Das Road, it was seen that white paper of the press was being taken in a row in a van. Paper printed in a few vans is being taken from one place to another for binding. However, this time there is not as much activity as there used to be before the book fair in other years.
Liakat Hossain, owner of Jinnah Printers in the Fakirapul area of the capital, said the printing business in Fakirapul and Arambagh areas had been in a slowdown for several years. This time too there was no improvement of the scenario, he added.
Meanwhile, there are more than 100 binding houses in Banglabazar. Unlike previous years, those businesses also are passing a relatively idle time this year.
Cover artists also affected
Alongside established senior cover artists, young artists also usually remain very busy painting and decorating book covers ahead of the Ekushey book fair every year but, like others, they also are reeling from pandemic shocks.
Sabyasachi Hazra – one of the most popular cover artists at present – told TBS that he had received only 60% of work orders so far this year compared to the amount of book covers he designed last year.
He said the people of the country had gone through a different struggle in the last one year. "But now many people are getting vaccinated. The situation is also quite good. The fair is expected to attract a good number of visitors."
He, however, observed that it was better to publish fewer books at the book fair.
"This will be a lesson for the publishers. Why should publications of books be only fair-centric? Books should actually be published throughout the year," he explained.
Artist Dhruba Esh has gained special fame among cover artists of the country. He told TBS, "I think the fair will be very good this time. We haven't had a chance to be together in a long time."
"I've a lot of work pressure. However, the overall situation of the entire cover industry cannot be considered in view of my work. I work all the year round. However, the overall cover industry is not in a good state."
Stall rentals halved
According to the Bangla Academy authorities, the government has allotted stalls to publishers at half the usual rentals, considering the coronavirus pandemic.
AHM Lokman, secretary of the Bangla Academy, told TBS that there were about 34 pavilions this year. In addition to the pavilions, 550 publishing houses are participating in the fair.
Jalal Ahmed, member secretary of the book fair organising committee, told TBS that talks were underway with the metrorail authorities to clear the road from the TSC to Doel Chattar before the fair.
"We are now in the final stages of preparation," Mazharul Islam, president of the capital committee of the Book Publishers and Sellers Association, told The Business Standard, "Most of our new books will arrive in the first week of the fair."
He also said there was no possibility of an increase in the prices of books this year.