Buying a book is an investment in our future

2016-09-18 06:09

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A population that doesn’t read books will always be trapped. Books are the best vehicles to transmit information and knowledge, and promote learning.

National Book Week, which has been taking place this week, is designed to raise awareness of the fundamental role books play in cultivating a healthy society.

The SA Book Council is committed to its development and, given that only 14% of South Africans are regular readers, our task is urgent and enormous.

Consumers cite a lack of time, access to libraries and the prohibitive cost of books as some of reasons they don’t purchase books.

In relation to the middle class lifestyle, reading is one of the cheapest leisure activities.

A book does not offer a fleeting or ephemeral experience. It can outlast the reader and be passed down.

Reading is also fundamental to the educational development of children. Children perform better at school through sustained reading.

Books are also transformative. The best example of this has been demonstrated through reading and library programmes run in prisons.

These have been so successful at transforming individuals that we are looking at ways to extend this legacy beyond the prison walls – sustaining their access to books.

The council has interrogated each stage of book production in an effort to assess whether the cost could be reduced.

However, we have found that the cost matches the many skills and professionals required to generate them, from content development (authoring, photography, illustrations and professional editors and commissioners), to production, which includes materials, labour, distribution and marketing.

Publishers carry most of the risk. They often make losses and therefore gravitate towards publishing sure-sellers.

Removing VAT would only lead to short-term benefits – our research suggests that gains would taper off in 18 months.

So, where does this leave us? The solutions are multifarious and involve renewed commitment from all the different stakeholders.

Those with the means need to understand that when they buy a book, they are not only supporting an author, a publisher and an entire industry, but also, indirectly, a culture of reading and sustaining the intellectual and cultural capital that grows our nation.

Government has made a considerable investment in building libraries. However, if it is to realise its goal in ensuring that each child owns a book by the age of four, they need to consider subsiding the production of books.

This would allow publishers more leeway in testing new forms of literature for the next generation.

They could take risks, and alternative and challenging texts would find their way into the hands of our people.

Please commit to reading and buying books, if you have the means, or encourage others to do so. The future of our society depends on it.

Van der Sandt is the CEO of the SA Book Council


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