Saturday, April 26, 2008

Books should not be cheap

Agnes Winarti wrote a report at the Jakarta Post yesterday that book publishers and literature advocates demand the government to support the book industry with cheaper paper price, and to give more lenient tax on printing, sales and royalties that will enable readers to get cheaper quality books.

The report says that publishers have to offer discount between 35-45 percent, sometimes 50%, to distributors, which is high but to me it is probably reasonable. Distributors have to bear certain costs, such as transportation, inventory, warehousing, promotion, provision for damaged and obsolete books, the opportunity lost for slow-moving books, and other overhead costs.

Indonesian books are already much cheaper than the imported ones, and the number of books sold per title is not that high as the habit of buying and reading books by Indonesians is far behind other countries. It means that the distributor's profit may not be that big.

The price structure of a typical book can be 35% allocated to distributors and stores, 30% for printing, 25% for the publisher and 10% for the author. The question is whether there is a way to reduce the price, and whether we have to bring down the price and how low will that be.

Books shouldn't be cheap. Even if we can find ways to reduce costs for the distributors, printing companies and publishers, the savings shall be allocated entirely to the authors. This way, more quality books can be expected to hit the stores.

A typical half-day basic course may cost participants around Rp.500,000, only to get a few learning points and a piece of paper with their names on it. It may not always be the case, but most of the benefit of training and seminars actually go to the trainers and speakers, not to the participants.

With that amount of money, people can buy a couple of books and get a lot more wisdom. The question is whether the reading habit is there. I'm not against training and seminars by the way, as there are some real values in them, such as to serve as motivational tools, escapes from boring work environment and also good places for networking, but we need to be selective, and training providers shall improve their quality of teachings and facilitation processes.

The industry shall focus more on promoting the habit of reading while trying to reduce production and distribution costs. To serve those who have less money to buy books, we need to encourage people to sell or donate their books after reading instead of keeping them in personal libraries with slim chances to reopen it, and create more secondhand book markets.

Instead of asking the government to subsidize the price of paper, the industry needs to promote the habit of reading e-books and listening to audio-books. More virtual bookstores are then needed, and the government shall move faster to cut significantly the cost of Internet connections.

Cheaper books is not the solution for the industry and the society. More creative approaches shall be explored to bring the books, in whatever formats they are, to reach more people.


  1. Utk buku2 umum saya pendapat tidak perlu ada subsidi. Tapi utk buku2 teks di perguruan tinggi/sekolah, saya rasa perlu ada subsidi, khususnya buku utk pengadaan perpustakaan. Karena banyak mahasiswa/siswa yg belum mampu utk membeli sendiri buku2 teks.

  2. So the biggest number is allocated to the stores and distributors. Let me guest, there are few of them and they can dictate the price if publisher want to marketed by them. Pathetic isn't it ? Oh yes, Gramedia one of them too. We should follow India, they can produce the cheap books with low paper quality.

  3. @Aris Heru Utomo: saya sependapat dengan sampeyan bung Aris, pengadaan buku2 sekolah / kuliah untuk anak dari keluarga kurang mampu seharusnya memang menjadi kewajiban sekolah / perguruan tinggi atau pemerintah untuk membantu.

    @Toni: publisher and stores can probably dictate the price for books written by new authors whose works haven't been tested yet in the market.

  4. You're right books should not be cheap, we got lots of precious and useful info and education from books. We should respect the authors and the writers. I also agree to ppl that likes to copy books to be BANNED, i mean to those ppl who copying one book, rent it from library and copying whole book... There are organizations that fights piracy to CD-DVDs but they forgot on copyrighting books... this is just the same (STEALING IDEAS and INFO) only different way and different media... don't you think?

  5. @Trisna: nduk, reference books are expensive for some students, partly because of the high value of the book content and the relatively smaller copies sold. There must be enough reerence books in the library for the meedy.

    Maybe the local administration shall start a campaign by distributing large stickers to all photo-copier services, stick them at front glasses, saying that copying books is against the law, and can be prosecuted.

  6. Ahhh, this article reminded me on that book (again), hahahaha... :-)

    Anyway, kata orang nich, People were judged by the books they read, jadi wajar kalo ada orang yang karena pengen kelihatan "INTELEKTUAL", bought many books,... and put them on a "very beautiful minimalist bookshelf" on their living room :D without reading them at all.

    Nah, kalo habitnya udah kayak gitu, boro2 mo nyumbangin bukunya... baca aja enggak... ;-)

    I'm agree that our government should be more creative on exploring the form of the books, in what ever form they are, so that people will be interested on reading them and increasing the habit of reading it self.

    Jadi... Semua buku2 yang udah dibaca, kapan mo dihibahkan ke saya??? ha..ha..ha ;-)

    (btw pakdhe, from now on I will use this user name, just "silly" without stupid, coz I'm not stupid anymore :D )

  7. again sorry ya nduk, about the book :).
    people were judged by people who like to judge others nduk, not by the book they read...
    moral, don't read certain books just because we want to be judged favorably by others, even though we don't like the books.

    I'm now reading the English version of The Prince by Nicocolo Machiavelli, a new translation by Peter Constantine.

    I have ever bought the Indonesian version long time ago and would like to refresh my memory on this controversial book.

    For those who are interested to have the book, let me know.

  8. Hahahaha.. that's okay pakdhe. Now, who is the author of the old one??? Can I have that book, please? :-)


    thanks before and after

  9. @silly: it's probably not the kind of book that you want to read nduk. It's about power, how to seize and retain it, at whatever expense.

  10. Books are pricey.. I used to go to my school libraries for fictions. But text books were and still are harder to find. How do we know if there are any updates in science? When I was an undergrad student, my advisor or the lecturers might lent me or the class some new books in those times (no internet) which was very useful for us. That was the most precious gift for us. Just to be able to make copies of several chapters, was enough for us to understand that we are learning something.

  11. I believe that with a higher awareness to read within the general society, the market for any kind of books, fiction, non fiction, science, even newspaper circulation will increase in proportion to the awareness. With few exceptions, I am always willing to share my reading materials with others...(asal dikembalikan dan tidak di coret2).

  12. I beg to differ here. We MUST find ways to provide cheaper books in Indonesia. We must break the vicious circle of our reading habit (or lack thereof) and I strongly believe this is one of them. Can't force them to read when there's none to read, can we?

    Let's talk about text books. If one text book costs Rp 200.000, I don't think it is affordable to most students. Even universities can't afford it. I remember the university where I studied was lending photocopied text books in the library so that more students could have access to them. Talking about legalized piracy huh :-)

    We should be able to negotiate with the publishers to be able to print the text books in paperback. We have > 200 million of population, we are big market for them, and for that authors shouldn't get a cent less! I don't believe the hype that authors don't get paid well, ask Ms. Rowling :-p

    One more thing, how come books are cheaper in Singapore (while the people earn much more than Indonesian). No wonder it's almost impossible for us to catch up!

  13. @Nurul: yeah right nduk, science and techonology, as well as humanity, keep advancing overtime, but wisdom may remain the same for centuries.
    access for information is crucial, and hence internet costs shall be brought down.

    @sboentaran: with the exception of library, people tend to keep the book they borrow; hence I'd prefer to give the book away, or do not lend it at all if I want to keep it.
    I went to Gramedia Plaza Semanggi yesterday, and I was pleased to find out that there was a rather big transparent box made from plastic or acrylic, near the entrance, for people to drop the book in to donate to the needy.

  14. @Mangaranap: text-book distributors know that they won't sell a lot of copies, as the purchasing power is not there yet, and students prefer to copy even when the price difference between the copied and the original one is reasonable. Hence they increase the gross margin percentage. It's economies of scale things.
    Cheap things tend to be less appreciated, but I agree that in certain strategic subjects the government needs to provide assistance.

  15. One the one hand, we wanna respect authors for their work, on the other hand there are many people out there who deserve information at a decent cost. I think, what could be done is cross-subsidy. So books can come in different versions:
    - high quality HC (premium price)
    - paperback (low price)

    and -thanks to the internet- the online e-version where people can read it for free.


  16. @Vina Revi: hi nduk, how's life there now? Hope you've settled down a bit and enjoy the new environment.

    I agree with you nduk on the cross subsidy thing, it certainly helps for those who really want to buy but have limited budget. Most of the time, however, it's not about the money, but the will.

  17. I am amazed that the writer gets so little. After all, without h thw author, there would be no book.

  18. @Windyridge: I guess it only applies to new or not so famous writers as the risks for the publisher are higher and no bargaining position on the authors' side.

  19. sudah sepatutnya pemerintah memberikan subsidi untuk semua jenis buku pelajaran demi mensukseskan program wajib belajar