For locally published books, about a fifth of the RM30 or so a reader pays goes to paper, typesetting, cover design and printing, says Raman Krishnan, who runs independent bookstore Silverfish Books.All well and good, but what happened with the latest Harry Potter? - which Raman reckons that it isn't just a book but:
Another 20 per cent is shared between the author and publisher, though the publisher shoulders all the risk if the book flops.
The lion’s share, about 60 per cent, is generally shared between the distributor and retailer.
The distributor takes care of transport, warehousing and marketing the book.
The bookseller keeps the books on the shelf and in the public eye in their inviting stores.
Distributors and bookshops aren’t paid. What happens is they buy the book from the publisher at a discount –– of up to 60 per cent of the cover price.
But every publisher has a different cost structure, says MPH’s Donald Kee. So the percentage taken varies from one to the next.
“Publishers and booksellers don’t earn much after paying for the high cost of paper, printing, rental and store set-up.
“Readership in Malaysia is low, as is our turnover. It’s not like the US or Britain where a far larger number of readers helps reduce cost,” says the corporate affairs manager.
If imported, the price is set like this: The cover price, noted on the book in pound sterling, US or Australian dollars, is converted using an 90-day average exchange rate.
Another 30 per cent is added on, explains Kevin Sugumaran of the Malaysian Book Exporters and Importers Association.
“So a £10 book could come up to RM60 after applying the conversion rate and reach RM78, when the 30 per cent is added.
“That percentage is a gross margin that covers freight, warehouse costs, distribution and the profit that goes to bookshops.”
The exchange rate is controlled by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry and importers have been charging the same rate for the past three decades, says Sugumaran.
“Since 2001, the fuel surcharge, shipping, air freight and security charges have all increased but we live with it because we try and depend on volume of sales."
.. a fashion statement, a product, a must-have toy.Ouch! (Quickly grab the anti-Muggle antidote!)
Chia Thye Wee acknowledges these problems but points out that the RM109.90 price for the latest Potter book wasn’t something booksellers pulled out of a hat.Tesco, one of the hypermarkets selling the book for RM69.90 says: .
The figure was negotiated with publishers. The discounts booksellers received depended on how many they bought and how quickly, says the president of the Malaysian Booksellers Association.
Their margin was shared with customers through discounts and was also used to cover the events for children, heralding the arrival of the book.
“Books like this come by only once in a while and stores have been waiting two years for this book. They ordered large numbers and paid a long time ago.
“Then hypermarkets slashed the prices. And if the big bookshops had trouble managing, what more the smaller ones. There was no way they could fight back
“It’s not that hypermarkets can’t sell books but to do this to booksellers on the launch day is simply taking away their bread and butter.”
... it just wanted to make the book more affordable.Sure. In Britain and the US supermarkets/hypermarkets slashed prices in the same way so that:
... small bookshops struggled to keep up with discounts offered by the big players but did sell it at a loss anyway. ... Big chains like Waterstones were forced to follow ... because they did not want to appear uncompetitive. How on earth can you get so many retailers selling a product they make no profit on at all, and may even be selling at a loss? Cock-eyed logic for sure!That aside, one of the reasons for higher book prices in Malaysia is the low volume that can be sold. And beneath that lies the problem that Malaysians are not reading a great deal.
People don't read because books are expensive. Books are expensive because people don't read. Chicken egg chicken egg chick-
In a related piece, however, the assistant director of the National Book Council, Roselan Zainal Abidin, talks about Malaysian reading habits being:
not so bad any more lah ... Some local magazines and books have a 15,000 print run. School books sell by the thousands as do the popular Bahasa Malaysia romance novels.We are much consoled.
Also interviewed is:
Self-confessed book addict Sharon Bakar ... (who) forces herself to stay focused in a bookstore for fear of suffering a deep and irreparable hole in her pocketShe (whoever she is) reckons the key lies in reader education and also believes that there is no use any one interested party pointing a finger of blame at any other ... teachers, booksellers, writers, parents, librarians, friends of books ... because we are all in this together.
So here I have to agree with Raman:
... Stores need to start employing people who read. Knowledgeable people can advise buyers and organise activities that really connect with people ... Engage schools and school-children. Do whatever it takes. ... It’s time to walk the extra mile.Baby, that means you.