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Union of Jordanian Publishers: The book industry is in danger… and Amman International Book Fair is jeopardised
Jafar Al Okaili,
The Union of Jordanian Publishers (UJP) has protested the government decision to approve a 10% tax on book sales, with the organisation’s Administrative Commission hosting a press conference to address what they identify as the threats and challenges that face the book industry in Jordan.
A statement issued by the UJP and read by its Chairperson, Fathi Al Bis, stressed that taxing books “is like waging a war against science, knowledge and education and contributes to destroying the book industry, which is witnessing a rapid and seriously dangerous decline.”
The statement also highlighted the UJP’s efforts to convince the government to conduct research and studies about the book industry that aim to identify key challenges that face it and find realistic solutions to keep it alive. It said that the UJP was astonished to hear about the sales tax, which it said that has shaken the book industry and its associated sectors.
“Publishing is the heart of cultural industries and the foundation of the integrated economic, cultural, social and political development,” the statement stressed. It pointed out that many narratives by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) call for protecting this industry from the market fluctuations because it is “the guardian of heritage and national identity, and the arm that faces ignorance, illiteracy and poverty. It is the scale that measures the advancement of nations.”
The statement also cited the Arab human development reports that are issued by the United Nations, which include warnings about the dangers of not supporting the book industry and the creative movements.
According to the statement, young people aged 15-29 years form 30% of Jordan’s population, with most of them being students. The majority depend on curricula and syllabus provided by the government to public schools. One of the key challenges that face the book industry is that students copy books and manage to get pirated titles because otherwise they are too expensive. “If this is the case before the tax, what will the situation be afterwards?” the statement wondered.
The statement stressed that the book industry in Jordan has been suffering for years and that many people are reluctant to buy books, preferring instead to obtain pirated titles. State, cultural and civil institutions are also reluctant to buy books in a very small and limited market, especially in view of the collapse of the Arabic book market on which Jordanian publishers depend. This has led to a decrease in the number of published Arabic books, which has declined from 1,000 copies to a few hundred that remain in stores for years.
The statement attributed this deteriorating situation to the fact that of the 750 Jordanian publishing houses that were licenced by the Media Commission, 371 were closed. Only 140 of the remaining 379 publishing houses are registered in the UJP and in the beginning of 2018, only 72 of them met their financial obligations. The libraries licensed by the Media Commission comprise 900 facilities, 218 of which are functional and most of them will be closed.
On the reasons behind this dire situation, the statement indicates that most of those who obtain license are “living economic delusions and are surprised to face miserable realities, so they withdraw and close their corporates or close their businesses once they discover the bitter realities” and this is why the government should support investors instead of causing them frustration. The statement underscored that this situation is getting more complex, given the growing number of websites that provide pirated books and the tendency of the new generation to use the Internet.
The UJP stressed in the statement that enforcing a 10% sales tax on books will cause the closing of many publishing houses, libraries and book stores. It will also increase the financial burden on students and their families, as well as increase piracy, copying and infringement of copyrights. Other industries will also suffer the consequences, such as printing houses. Research and writing will decline and the suffering of authors and writers will increase, in addition to the decline of human development programmes that the government is promoting. Finally, the Amman International Book Fair will be jeopardised if the new tax is not repealed.
In the statement, the UJP called for an immediate cancellation of the tax on books and hinted that it will take escalating steps in coordination with relevant entities affected by the new levy.