Sunday, August 13, 2006

Depressing Picture of Book Sales

The cover story in the education section of the Star today paints a depressing picture of local book sales.
It says a lot about Malaysia when in a population of 25 million, the local book industry can only print 1,000 to 3,000 copies per general title
says Law King Hui, president of the Malaysian Book Publishers Association, while the figures about readership seem to be as depressing as ever. According to the article:
A survey conducted in 1996 showed that Malaysians read an average of two books a year. … The results of a survey in 2005 show that things have not improved at all – many still read only two books a year. About 98% of 10-year olds read only two books a year, with 60.4% citing other interests and 28.7% lack of time as the reason.
Now, it seems to me that while there is much hand-wringing about the problems, those with the wherewithal to take action seem depressingly stumped for ideas about how to get the nation reading.

While the cost of books is a problem and any initiative to bring down prices is to be welcomed, there is an even bigger need to change mindsets. Law is certainly on the right page when he says that many not only have no interest in reading but also no inkling of what to buy, how to read or what to read.

Throw as much money at reading campaigns as you like, sell books at knockdown prices and make them available on every street corner. But nothing will happen without a concerted effort to help non-readers and marginal readers find their way into books they will enjoy.


Eric Forbes said...

I don't think the high cost of books is a real reason for not reading. We often see parents and kids willing to spent their money on movies, CDs, expensive food, computer games, etc., but when it comes to books, they are hesitant to spend on them. Why this double standard? I think people basically don't see the need to read at all. You know, nowadays you can do very well in life even if you hate reading. For those who are serious about reading, try buying one book a month (since books are expensive), but make sure you buy a good book. In a year, you would have read 12 books. Just imagine - 12 books! That's a start.

Yvonne Foong said...

It's basically the whole system, I believe. People are still struggling to meet basic neccisities. If you don't earn enough, nobody's gonna support you and you're on your on. So they are left with no choice but to concentrate on what gets them fast money.

As for the younger generation, let's blame the education. There's no room to breathe, let alone read.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks eric - i believe you're absolutely right about the double standard and many people not seeing the need to read. your "one book a month" would make a great slogan for a reading campaign.

yvonne - you're spot on about the education system not givng students space to breathe, let alone read. a rethink in the way education is structured would be necessary to give students more reading time. but there are schools where there is a policy to set aside part of each day for everyone, teachers included, to read.

John Ling said...

If you grow up in a highly pressurized education system that encourages you to memorize, memorize, and memorize, you soon becomes sick of printed material. All printed material.

So you turn to computer games, movies, and music to escape a stiffling study environment. And you soon become an adult with these same habits.

Thinking back, I cannot recall a single instance where reading was introduced to me in a positive and encouraging manner. All I remember is dry, shallow, even shaky lectures from my teachers about the importance of reading. This only reinforces the prejudice that reading is related to studying. Therefore, reading must be boring.

I can even recall being ostracized by my friends because I liked reading more than playing computer games. Such was the strength of the non-reading culture back in the 90s. I can imagine it has only gotten stronger since then.

Our developing years are our most crucial, particularly since we spend most of our time at school. If you aren't reading by the age of 12, it's going to be a very tough task to get you reading later on.

And that's the core problem. Young people love to have fun. And if reading doesn't inspire as much fun as the latest blockbuster or the latest multimedia extravaganza, it will never capture their attention.

Anonymous said...

i grew up in malaysia where i too had to memorise things till they came out of my ears, and was under pressure to perform academically, but i still managed to read. i think there is no excuse for not reading, if you really want to you can manage at the minimum a few pages a day. the problem is, ours is a society that doesn't really value or understand the value of a good book and how it can change the way you perceive the world and life. why? because we've never really been taught to value it in this way. i read as an adult because my parents are readers. i always saw my parents reading, and my father in particular always talk about things that he was reading about making me really curious about the world. when i'd ask what something meant he'd say: check it in the dictionary, or the library or the encyclopedia, so i had to go find it myself and in that way i really got into the habit of it and really started to enjoy it. the other day i was out and overheard a father explain to his son [very seriously] about his mobile phone and its various functions and what the more expensive ones were like. the boy looked totally bored. but he took pains to listen to his dad and make the right noises because he didn't want to upset his dad. poor thing! now i bet you i could have said something like 'once upon a time in a country were it was always day and everyone had to wear sunglasses all the time ..." that boy would have sat up and listened! anyhow, i guess he'll grow up to know all there is to know about the hottest electronic products out there...

so, yes, the government should do sometehing like get decent libraries going in the first place; schools should have reading times / where teachers read to children / and bring out all the great things about stories (and for goodness sakes there's plenty of good books! --- unlike how there are plenty of lousy MOVIES!), and schools should have access to these books. parents are the number one motivator though. maybe the government should get parents to read and give them some kind of tax break for it! that would work won't it? money talks in this country?

John Ling said...

Well said.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't count on the government doing anything solid anytime soon. For obvious reasons.

animah said...

I went to a school (which has since been knocked down to make way for a shopping mall and hotel) where each class had a period a week in which it had to sit in the library. In primary school, we had to select a book and check with our class teacher before borrowing it. Her role was to ensure that we were picking the right "age" book. Once I selected a "too easy" book and she said Animah, you can read something more challenging than this. In the BBGS primary school library I was introduced to What Katy Did, the March sisters, Pollyanna, Ballet Shoes, The Railway Children; while at home I'd be consuming Enid Blyton (to my mom's displeasure, who would throw Puffins my way whenever she could).

In Secondary school, the tradition continued, except this time we had to write a report on the book we read. And you couldn't fool the teachers - they knew if you copied the synopsis on the back jacket or if you copied your friend's earlier report. You had to actually READ the book. Some books you could never get hold of. I became a junior librarian in Form 2 so that I could read the Flambards triology and keep them for my friends (early form of nepotism).

In Form 3, we had to stop going to the magical junior library and go to the mysterious serious senior library. Here was adult fiction (there were very few young adult novels in those days) - and all I remember was borrowing a CS Lewis adult novel, completely not understanding it (still don't) and Pygmallion which wasn't as exciting as My Fair Lady. Where was my favourite line" Move your blooming ass!!"?

I don't know what happened to those wonderful books and that BBGS reading culture.

Anonymous said...

I also reckon the education system has a lot to do with it: as said above, memorisation is often the rule of the day, so reading for pleasure is not inculcated. The internet (for those who have regualar access) also has some of the blame - pre-packaged summaries are often used by students rather than reading and understanding longer texts.

Animah: your mother and mine must be soul mates or something! She refused to buy me any Enid Blyton and I had to either borrow them, use my pocket money or get them given as presents!

Parents come into it too of course: I know someone who used to like to read a lot, but was criticised for being lazy and using reading as a way to avoid chores and isolating themself from the family.

Anonymous said...

The key thing seems to be the lack of decent public libraries in Malaysia. The National Library website is a joke, haven't been back recently to see if the place itself has magically acquired new books and done away with the membership fee (if you are a local resident, you should not have to PAY to borrow books). It's all well and good if you live in KL and come from a middle-class background - you can stroll into Kinokuniya anytime and pick up a shrink-wrapped book of poetry for 60 ringgit. But what if you're from some small town in Pahang or something?

The BBGS school library sounds like a dream. In Assunta, the primary school library was halfway decent (a couple of Blytons to be found) but the secondary school library as I remember it was a place for us to watch educational documentaries about menstruation. Strewn about among the boring academic textbooks were some Pak Pandir collections, I believe.

And I agree with someone else who said he/she grew up within the Malaysian education system but still triumphantly came out a reader. For me, it helped that books were all over the place at home, crappy ones and good ones, and I think Malaysian parents should stop spending so much on tuition and start shoving books at their kids.

Anonymous said...

"It's basically the whole system, I believe. People are still struggling to meet basic neccisities. If you don't earn enough, nobody's gonna support you and you're on your on."

Yvonne.. this is so much unmitigated bullcrap. I just read in the papers that the kind folks of the country donated Rm50,000 towards your medical fund, despite your family not being exactly destitute. You have a scholarship from Life College. And _still_ you can say no one supports you ? who are you kidding ?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - do you mean to say that if we get decent public libraries, all of a sudden more people will become readers ? :)

Lim Wing Hooi said...

I think we should emphasize on community libraries. It has to be made convenient for people to drop by and borrow a book, very much like having playgrounds and football fields to encourage the local community to enjoy outdoor activities, sports, socializing among neighbours etc. Expecting a single national library will not do the trick ... it will bring people who already believe in the value of books. How else can it be explained in private sectors having mobile sales team in almost everywhere?