Publishing houses feel the squeeze
- Only around 10% of Tk12,000cr average yearly transaction achieved so far
- Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity has 26,000 members, 1.5 lakh staff
- Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashak Samity has 206 members
- Samity members lost around Tk250 crore since March
- Publishing houses yet to get any stimulus package support
- Many publishers went to banks seeking loans, but failed to get them
Mizanur Rahman Patwari – the owner of Mizan Publishers – has been in the publishing business for over 42 years, but never before has he faced a financial crisis of this magnitude.
His book sales have stagnated since March this year due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, causing him to suffer losses of around Tk10 crore.
Adding to his losses is the Tk30 lakh per month running cost of his publication house, which employs more than 100 staff members. The rest of the losses came from unsold books.
The publisher also printed 300 books on the eve of the Mujib Borsho [the centennial birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman], but no copies have been sold as yet. Patwari will face severe financial issues if he fails to sell those books by the end of this year.
Mizan Publishers' dilemma is not an isolated story, because more than 5,000 publishers across the country are suffering from severe financial crises due to the pandemic shock. They are counting their days and looking for a way out of their current situation.
According to the Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity, the publishing sector has suffered losses reaching more than Tk3,000 crore due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The yearly transaction of this sector is around Tk12,000 crore, but this year, it has not reached more than 10 percent of that amount, said association officials, adding, "Our sales usually start from March every year.
"But it has stagnated from March this year due to Covid-19 infections across the country."
Speaking to The Business Standard, Vice-President of the association Shaymol Pal said, "Many of the publishing houses could not return to their normal activities as they have already lost all their capital.
"They are yet to get any support from the government. We, the publishers, are going through a very tough time. We have invested all our capital in printing a large number of books, but we have not been able to sell them yet. We have no funds at hand at this moment."
Pal added that they had appealed to the prime minister and commerce minister seeking allocation of a stimulus package to revive the publishing sector, but did not receive any response as yet.
The Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity has around 26,000 members and more than 1.5 lakh staff. Among them, 3000 members are based in Dhaka.
Responding to a query, Universal Publications' owner Kazi Shah Al Alam said, "I printed books worth Tk10 crore, but only a few have been sold.
"The book sale season was supposed to begin from March this year, like it used to do every year. But now, we have no idea how much longer we will have to suffer. I am heading towards serious trouble, because books of this year's version cannot be sold next year."
Giving more details, Alam – who also serves as the director of Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity – added, "I have already faced Tk1.5 crore in losses due to the coronavirus pandemic. I closed my office this month because I am no longer able to run my publication house.
"We have serious concerns over how many days the virus is going to linger. Many publishers went to the banks seeking loans, but failed to get them. If we do not get any loans, it will be tough to reopen our businesses after the pandemic."
Monirul Haque, owner of Ananya Prakashani and executive director of Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashak Samity, said, "We have 206 members, and everyone has been counting losses. Our members have suffered losses of around Tk250 crore.
"We print creative and other books. We printed a lot of books which have not been sold yet. We are yet to get any stimulus package facilities. We want the government to buy our books for educational institutions and offices. It will be a great help to us."
Aside from hitting larger publishing houses, the Covid-19 has devastated smaller houses as well.
Genius Publications is one of the small publishing houses in Bangladesh. Its owner Habibur Rahman said he has only 500 books and 10 others in the pipeline for print. He has counted losses of Tk50,000 per month since March.
"I will have to shut down my publishing house if the virus stays any longer."
Publishing house staff and book shop owners are also waiting for better days. They have no idea how long they will have to wait for the situation to return to normal.
Md Faisal, a former staff member of Genius Publications, said, "I left my job because I observed that the owner could not run the company. We were doing better, but we were not ready for such a situation."
Another staff member of a publishing house, seeking anonymity, said his boss fired several staff members including him last month. "I do not know what I am going to do now," he said in a worried and tired tone.