Govt must intervene to save publishing industry

JUST a few days ago, when I was paying my monthly rentals, my landlord confided with me: “Son, the situation is getting out of hand, and so, the rental fee for the coming month has risen…”

I am sure the hymn from which my landlord was singing is not new to the ears of many, particularly at a time when property owners are trying to structurally adjust and implement austerity measures that ensure their pockets do not suffer unnecessarily.

That brings us back to the question of the wellbeing of the writing community as well as the entire publishing industry. While the industry has all along been suffering silently and almost defunct, the situation has now worsened and has hit rock-bottom.

To write and research, whether by desktop or using imperial methods, a lot of effort is required. Transport costs, whether of the physical form or by internet, have ballooned beyond the means of many. Data costs have soared to new heights.

When all these factors are considered, it becomes apparent that the writer’s position has now been compromised. The writer’s hands are tied. The writer can now not use the same tools that once were at his disposal and thus the quality of work produced has become hugely compromised.

In between, the manuscript that the writer produces passes through numerous hands. There has to be a reader, an editor, proofreader, type-setter, printer and then a distributor.

The above-mentioned services are provided by the people who make up the book industry, a term many dispute, preferring the humbling term “book community”.

These players too are not immune to the rise of the cost of living. One measure that they should implement is to increase their service charges or to charge in foreign currency.

But that would mean a writer now having to be reasonably financially resourced if he or she is to afford service charges by the book industry.

Assuming that the writer is now subjected to a new and higher charge sheet, what that simply implies is that the book then becomes a very expensive product to buy for the ordinary citizen trying to make irreconcilable ends meet.
But all these are just possibilities. The pragmatic fact is that many writers are within the income brackets of the ordinary citizen. The trend is now for the writer to skip multiple stages in the publishing process so that costs are minimised.

Technically, the book has not been selling well even when selling in the ZWL currency. Selling the book in United States dollar currency would likely push away many prospective customers.

There is a risk too. Service providers may begin to go for the worst to those that come knocking at their doors. One of the worst forms would be soliciting for sexual favours from those that cannot afford paying for the services offered.

Also present among the risks is that the literature emerging from this period may not be able to capture the reality of the period we are now in, but that which only seeks to fit into the curriculum or commercial pipeline, both of which are sad developments to the literary sector.

Apart from the politics of pricing, the book industry is also confronted by the high cost of doing business.
Resultantly, the book too, due to some ripple effects, shall have to be pegged at a higher price. The book in reference does not only refer to the fiction genre, but also those used by the academia.
The unaffordability of the book simply implies that piracy will take root and the fate of the writer would remain pathetic and, therefore, make him unable to sufficiently cater for his or her needs.
There is a life after one’s pen seizes oozing ink. Will one afford a decent medical treatment, funeral arrangements or to leave behind an estate?

The writer is now forced to battle it out so that he or she finds himself/herself still fitting in the tighter budgets of the consuming public, many of who are now omitting luxuries like alcohol and meat from their to-have-list.

When we grew up, books used to have a fixed selling price on its hardcover; that surely has become a preserve for writers and readers from stable economies.

Whichever the case, the survival of the book industry is now at risk. Without the intervention of the government, the book industry will fall, but at a cost. One of the costs is that many non-governmental organisations may find it easier to infiltrate the writers club, offering meagre gifts to fill their empty coffers, and in the process affect national ideology.

 Beniah Munengwa, who writes in his personal capacity, can be contacted through email benmunengwa@gmail.com.

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