Spending way too much money to read

PETALING JAYA: In 2010, it was reported that on average, Malaysians read between eight to 12 books a year. This is a dismally low number when we consider that the national adult literacy rate is 92% (according to a 2007 Unicef study).

One of the most evident reasons for the lack of interest in reading is the expensive cost of books in Malaysia.
“Compared to other countries, books in Malaysia are costly, even with discounts,” said Kiirtana Santharasagaran, 23.

In the United States of America, the price of a brand new paperback book is around eight to 12 US dollars. Let’s compare that to the minimum wage of USD 7.25 per hour. This means that to afford a book in the United States, a person need only work for less than two hours.

In Malaysia, where the minimum wage is about RM4.33 per hour, the average Malay novel will set you back about RM20 while an English paperback will cost around RM30. To afford either of the two, a person will have to work at least 4 and 7 hours a day.

To the average Malaysian who has to worry about paying off housing, car and study loans amid the increasing cost of living, spending money on books may not come into play.

“Books cost a lot in relation to the average person's income in Malaysia,” agreed Keana Reinu, 21.

“When they import these books they charge us the exchange rate price plus some tax, but numerically, spending RM30 on a very thin simple book is a lot more to a Malaysian than spending U$10 is to someone from the United States,” said Keana.

“And that's just the general fiction books! Once you start purchasing books on specified topics like photography or travel, they can really cost a good percentage of some people's monthly salary,” she added.

With the kind of purchasing power that we have as Malaysians, books become luxury items and this is where the problem lies.

Starting a habit is not easy. Reading especially requires time, patience and a considerable amount of focus. It also doesn’t help that it is generally perceived to be a boring hobby. Some even think it anti-social!

The reading habit is not physically addictive, and the gratification is a delayed one. Because of this, a child has to be exposed to many, many books before he develops a routine and begins to find delight in the stories he reads.

To get accustomed to reading, parents need to regularly read to their child. To keep children interested, new books need to be continuously introduced.

This means that the reading habit requires a variety of books to be read frequently, something that is proving to be too much of a financial burden, particularly for young families.

The expensive price of books is also not kind to those who wish to pick up the habit at an older age. Because adult books come in many categories, a reader has to sift through different genres and spend on a variety of titles before they land on what they truly are interested in.

While the situation now seems to be quite bad for Malaysians, not all hope is lost. Tax exemptions on books and student book vouchers have done much to help the cause.

“Prices of books in general are ridiculously high, but I would like to thank the owners of discount bookstores for keeping some of them affordable,” said V. Arumugam, 52.

“The popular books are expensive, but prices are not too bad if you know where to look. I usually frequent warehouse sales to stock up on them,” agreed Joyce Choong, 24.

Tariq Maketab, 26, also visits book sales often, “The latest books are very expensive. Since I'm no longer a student benefiting from book vouchers, I wait until there is a massive book sale to get my fix,” he said.

“I wish there were more and better-stocked libraries in Malaysia, so that we can read more books without having to spend more money,” he added.

Although the introductions of warehouse, rental and discount bookstores have allowed for more affordable books, one does not usually get the luxury of choice when opting for these cheaper alternatives.

“Generally, classics are sold at ridiculously cheap prices but more often than not the options are limited. Nonfiction works, like encyclopedias or even autobiographies are highly priced,” said Ahmad Hazim Norahmadi, 20, on the range of options for affordable books.

Perhaps Malaysians will turn to E-Books in greater numbers. Titles are not only plentiful, but also accessible and cheap. While it might turn off purists who like the feel of paper on their fingers as they flip the pages, e-books may be the most rational decision for those on a tight budget.
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