School-reopening rekindles hopes of publishing industry

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After months of frustration due to the long Covid-induced closure of educational institutions, people involved in the publishing business finally see a ray of hope as schools and colleges reopen today.

The sector, one of the worst-hit by Covid pandemic, is now busy publishing textbooks, syllabus, and ‘Sohaika’ or help books, in its bid to make a comeback.

What is encouraging is that people in large numbers have started flocking to bookstores these days to buy books, signaling a possible turnaround for people in the business.

Earlier, the government kept all educational institutions shut from March 16, 2020, as a precautionary measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, leaving a significant impact on the publishing sector.

After the decision of reopening, the FE correspondent visited Nilkhet, Banglabazar, and Fakirapol areas in the city in the last few days and observed a change in atmosphere in those publishing business hubs.

Expressing his satisfaction, publisher of Universal Publications Kazi Shah Alam said they had long been waiting for the decision as long closure of schools, colleges, and universities had left a seriously damaging effect on their livelihood.

“The announcement on reopening gives us some respite … It (September 12) is like the Eid moon sighting day. We’re now counting days,” he said.

Explaining the sorry state of his own business, Mr. Alam said there were around 50 employees working for his organization, but he was forced to cut down the number to only 2 following a massive fall in sales due to the long closure of educational institutions.

“The situation is almost the same for other publishers. Many publishers and book-sellers have closed their operations. The announcement (reopening of academic institutes) has come as the last opportunity for those who still exist to survive,” he added.

Mr. Alam said he had recently run a job advertisement on an online platform. To his surprise, he had received a huge response against the posts of five people.

“I received CVs (curriculum vitae) from 500 people on the first day. It shows how Covid has impacted our job market,” he added.

The publishing sector had steadily been growing over the last several years but a death blow had come from the pandemic in March last year when the sector was in the midst of the peak selling season (from January to April). After incurring substantial losses last year, the publishers thought the situation would improve in this year’s peak season (January to May) with the opening of the educational institutions.

But, unfortunately, that did not happen, they said.

The industry people were frustrated losing two back-to-back peak seasons amid the long closure of educational institutions.

Insiders said the pandemic had cut down their sales by over 70 percent.

The sale of almost all categories of books declined to less than one-third, affecting allied sectors like printing, binding, and other logistics, insiders said.

According to the publishers and booksellers, the sector witnessed a job cut, ranging between 20 percent and 70 percent at various levels.

Md Mizanur Rahman Helal, an ex-director of Nilkhet-based Islamia Market Traders Multipurpose Cooperative Society, said book-related business, including publications and sales, was the only sector still struggling due to the pandemic.

“Almost all other sectors are now recuperating or have made a significant recovery, but the scenario of the publishing sector is different,” said Mr. Helal, also the owner of Life Publishers.

Hailing the government’s announcement for reopening schools and colleges, he said the decision had ensured a good turnout at the bookstores these days — this is very encouraging.

“We all have to be aware of Covid health protocols as the sector cannot afford another round of closure,” said Mr. Rahman, also the Dhaka city unit secretary of the Bangladesh Pustak Prokashok O Bikreta Samity.

Seeking anonymity, an official at Panjeree Publications said its market size was around Tk 1.0 billion alone in the Dhaka metropolitan area before the pandemic, but their sales declined by 75 percent following the Covid-19 outbreak.

And the poor business led to job cuts of at least 20 percent, he added.

Govt help in accessing soft loans sought

Small traders in this sector are the worst hit as these entrepreneurs are not eligible to access formal financing.

In fact, there are around 100 firms that publish textbooks, syllabus, and ‘Sohaika’ or help books, an alternative to guidebooks, for students from class-1 to class-12.

But five companies — Lecture, Panjeree, Anupam, Puthiniloy, and Jupiter — hold nearly 70 percent of the market shares.

Kazi Jahrul Islam Bulbul, former vice-president of the Bangladesh Publishers and Booksellers Association (BPBA), said only reopening of educational institutions might not be enough for saving the communities largely dependent on the publishing business.

To recover from the Covid-induced losses, he highlighted the importance of availing the stimulus package introduced by the government to protect the business from adverse impacts of the pandemic.

Only a few companies having banking transactions are eligible to receive the fund but the majority of them do not have such credit operations with banks, said Mr. Bulbul.

Even the companies that got the special funding from the bank for a one-year term at a rate of 4.0 percent are now finding themselves in a difficult situation, he mentioned.

He said the business units could not sell books at an expected level due to lockdown and closure of educational institutions.

“Now the banks keep on putting pressure on the firms to repay the loan on due time. Failure to that will lead to the conversion of the cheap loan to a regular one where the interest rate is 9.0 percent,” he said.

Mr. Bulbul requested the government to extend the loan repayment period considering the level of loss the publishing sector faced due to the pandemic.

He also urged the government to ensure formal credit access to all worst-affected business people by removing barriers.

Source- The Financial Express.

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