Malaysians love reading, but fewer local books sold

Page turners: Huge crowds at book fairs, like Bookfest@Malaysia in KLCC pictured here, indicate a growing love of Malaysians with reading.

PETALING JAYA: The love for rea­ding is growing with more people applying to be members of the National Library.

There has been a steady growth in membership applications every month from 2,563 in February to 4,153 in May this year, according to the National Library’s website.

But sales of locally published books have declined, leading to less revenue for Malaysian publishers.

The Malaysian Book Publishers Association (Mabopa) said this was due to, among other reasons, fewer books being published in the country.

“Malaysians love to read, but there are a few more areas we need to focus on to improve the country’s reading culture,” Mabopa president Arief Hakim Sani Rahmat told Sunday Star.

The total revenue earned by local book publishers shrank by 29% from RM1.192bil in 2014 to RM847mil in 2016.

“Revenue started to drop after 2015 due to the decline in sales.

“It also declined in 2016 because of the cancellation of the previous government’s book voucher programme for students.

“Another factor is reduced consumer spending power in the past few years,” said Arief Hakim Sani.

The industry took a hit when the RM1,000 tax incentive specifically for books was replaced with a RM2,500 lifestyle tax relief inclusive of books, Internet subscription and other things in 2017.

Last year, 18,663 book titles were published locally with most being under the languages and literature categories, according to the statistics of books registered under the Library Depository Act.

Malaysians, on average, read about 15 books a year based on an interim study done by the National Library in 2014.

But this is still a long way to go compared to those from developed countries who read an average of 40 books a year.

Arief Hakim Sani said the association believed that reading would grow in tandem with Malaysia’s economic and social progress.

“We hope the government will boost reading culture through tax incentives, specifically targeting the purchase of reading materials, book donations, and for royalty income from writing.

“There are existing incentives but we need more, especially with the current rising cost of living in Malaysia,” he said.

Arief Hakim Sani hoped there would be funding for libraries to purchase and restore book collections with latest books.

In March, it was reported that Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said he would reinstate the RM250 book vouchers that students once received under the now-­defunct 1Malaysia Book Vou­cher (BB1M) programme by next year.

Currently, the ministry provides RM100 aid to each student under the new Higher Education Student Aid programme.

This one-off aid is channelled into debit cards for students known as Kad Diskaun Siswa, enabling them to buy reading material, stationery, computer equipment and Internet access.

“Any extended assistance from this programme in future is subject to the financial capabilities of the government and based on the need to fulfil other commitments,” the ministry said when contacted.

Despite the changing times, the ministry said that a reading culture was still the key that led a society to be advanced and developed.

“Schools have carried out various efforts to instil a love for reading among students, including having reading weeks and implementing the Nadi Ilmu Amalan Membaca reading programme,” it said.

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