A blessing at time of economic strife

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The 23rd edition of the Colombo International Book Fair kicked off on 16 September, allowing readers across the nation to purchase books at a discounted price, a true blessing at a time of great economic strife.

The Colombo International Book Fair is an event organised by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association, and takes place every September, which is National Literacy Month.

When Ceylon Today visited the BMICH premises, it was observed that a lot of G.C.E. Ordinary Level and Advanced Level students had flocked there to buy books at discounted rates.In addition, a lot of mothers had thronged there to buy books for primary section students.

People used to save money just to attend the book fair and buy books for a cheaper price and also to get discounts.However, with the forex crisis, a paper shortage also occurred in the country.Due to the paper shortage, prices of books skyrocketed in no time. Even amid a crisis, Ceylon Today observed that there were a lot of schoolchildren and parents to buy books. The book fair has given renewed hope to anxious people to buy books, even when prices are at an all-time high. With many unable to buy books, attendees were thankful for the discounted rates.

A leading publisher said due to the paper shortage in Sri Lanka, the price of paper has increased by three to four per cent. Therefore, prices of exercise books have doubled.

“The amount a parent has to spend to buy the book list of a Grade 10 or 11 student is above Rs15,000. Also, the amount to buy the book list of a primary student is over Rs 12,000. However, we give a 20 per cent discount for our customers,” he said.

A publisher that sells books for primary section students said prices have increased, but this has not stopped parents from buying.

“We have past papers and model papers up to Grade 5. Prices have increased significantly. But to be frank, prices of all books have increased due to the paper shortage and forex crisis. It is very hard for us to find paper to print books at present,” he said.

Saduvi, an avid reader and second-year university student,said she came to the book fair with the hope of finding novels and stationery for a cheaper price.

“I bought novels as I love to read them. I was able to find some good books for a cheaper price. I also need A4 sheets to take notes. I don’t need high quality products, but prices of all products in general have soared. As for A4, I used to buy a 500-sheet bundle for Rs 300 previously. However, now the price has increased slightly. But I will keep searching until I find good products for cheaper prices,” she said.

Another book publisher said prices of past paper books differ according to the subject. She said the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Mathematics past paper book costs Rs 850 and the price of the G.C.E. Ordinary Level Music past paper book is Rs 350.

A leading company which sells A4 sheets said they sell the sheet bundles for the wholesale price at the BMICH premises, as the price of paper has gone up and customers cannot afford them.

He said one bundle that has 500 A4 sheets costs Rs 2,800.

“The prices increased very recently. I am a newcomer. Therefore, I am unfamiliar with the price trends,” he said.

A retired Army officer whose child will sit for the G.C.E. Ordinary Level next year was also present at the exhibition. He told Ceylon Today that his monthly pension is Rs 35,000, but he needs Rs 15,000 to upkeep his child every month.

“A CR book alone costs around Rs 400. We cannot stop buying books just because the prices have gone up. Our children need them for their studies. We have to somehow fulfil their needs,” he said.

He also added that a couple of discounts came in handy.

A manager of a well-known book publisher said when deciding the prices, there are so many factors to consider, and the problems are two-fold. On one hand, there is a forex crisis and on the other, there is a shortage of materials. He said prices have gone up roughly 30 to 40 per cent. It is understandable because the prices of all commodities have also gone up and it is only fair, he said. 

The book fair will be held from 16 September to 25 September and will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Over 150 local and international book publishers will participate in this year’s book fair, featuring over 400 stalls, as it was called off last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

(Pix By Kelum Chamara)

By Aloka Kasturiarachchi and Thameenah Razeek