Backlash after bank exec urges saving by spending less on books

2015-11-05 09:00

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Johannesburg - Authors and organisations have hit out at Standard Bank's head of financial solutions after he said people could save money by spending less on books.

Local author Sophia Kapp wrote an open letter to Standard Bank, saying Nitesh Patel's comments undermined the work the bank had done to support the arts.

Organisation PEN Afrikaans said it was going to "encourage book lovers, authors, booksellers and publishers to withdraw their business from Standard Bank". It however, later, accepted an apology from Patel.

In a report on Netwerk24 at the weekend, on ways to save money, Patel said, "It's wonderful to have books, but you can also borrow from a friend or loan from a library. Visit book stalls at markets or second-hand bookstores for cheaper versions. There are many free e-books online."

He also said that the price of new editions would become cheaper over time.

Impact of reading culture

Kapp said in her open letter that Patel disregarded the effect his advice would have on the country's publishing industry.

"Local authors depend on local publishers to see their work published; if the industry should suffer because of his remarks, their work will never see the light of day. How undermining local writing would benefit the country or its people, I truly fail to see," she said.

She said Patel disregarded the massive impact a reading culture, or the lack thereof, had on society.

"By telling consumers to visit libraries [which are already bleeding due to lack of funding] and 'borrowing' [is the best advice he can give consumers to sponge on their friends?] instead of investing in books, he makes it blatantly clear that he does not consider reading and exposing the mind to new ideas, opinions and information a priority or even a gain," Kapp said.

"I find that regrettable, if not reprehensible. I would have thought that in this country, where illiteracy, poor education and the lack of exposure to information are such massive impediments to social and economic development, Standard Bank and its representatives would be eager to foster a culture of reading and writing."


On Monday, PEN Afrikaans said Patel should withdraw the comment and Standard Bank should distance itself from him.

On Tuesday, PEN Afrikaans said Patel had apologised and had "pledged his own and Standard Bank's continued support for the arts and the book industry".

"He also offered an apology for the fact that his words, in an article which appeared over the weekend, could possibly have been misunderstood," it said.

"PEN Afrikaans therefore accepts the spirit in which Patel offered his apology. We also recognise Standard Bank's continued contribution to the arts.

"Nitesh Patel and Standard Bank's overall idea, to help South Africans save, should be praised and encouraged. Progressive countries and households, however, do not save on books or education, if they have any choice in the matter."

PEN Afrikaans however did say it wanted to focus on the fact that books "like education, are not an unnecessary luxury and cannot be placed in the same category as designer clothes".

"Every household should ideally save and budget for books and the arts. The local book industry is under pressure and many writers and other professions, also clients of Standard Bank, are dependent on their income from books.

“PEN Afrikaans agrees that books are still too expensive for many, therefore many of our members support several projects that donate books to poor communities.

"Our books also go to libraries for that very reason. However, we deemed it irresponsible to tell people who can afford books, that books should best be avoided, like designer clothes."

It also said it was a myth that there was no cost involved in making e-books.

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