Meeting in the middle

The information and communications minister will intervene and reexamine Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority’s (BICMA) new publication rules.

The rules, recently introduced, requires book stores to pay Nu 5 for every international title they want to sell in Bhutan and Nu 500 for every local title. This includes books, newspapers and magazines.

A registration number issued by BICMA will also have to be printed on the publication offered for sale.

We can understand why BICMA would like to introduce or implement this rule.

The intention is to filter out the rubbish.

And it may work if we’re only talking about what is available in our book stores. If the goal is simply to ensure that only quality material can be purchased locally then the move makes sense.

But if the objective is to filter all the outside content we’re exposed to, then this effort may fall short.

There is a much more powerful medium available to the masses today: the internet; where malicious gossip, unverified and often false information, pornography, libel, spam, among others, grabs eyeballs and manipulates minds, both young and old, on a daily basis.

Attempts have been made to control the flow of information on the internet and have failed. Local experts say they would have to invest millions of dollars to achieve filtering information or tracking down criminals; money which is unavailable.

Even the most technologically advanced countries, with the required resources at their disposal, struggle on this front.

Therefore, if the intention is to filter content; we’re ignoring the elephant in the room.

The book stores are also not happy that they now have to pay a 20 percent customs tax for books imported from countries other than India, in addition to a 5 percent sales tax.

Arguments have been made against the implementation of the customs tax but the government has not backtracked despite granting a six-month grace. The law is the law. We have to pay our taxes even if it means many titles may become more expensive and make us think twice about purchasing a certain book.

There’s always the library to fall back upon to request a purchase.

But what the book stores are not happy about is the Nu 5 fee for registering an international title with BICMA. The amount may not be large but book stores argue, the amount could increase significantly considering the hundreds of titles they import annually.

What is questionable perhaps is the necessity of the Nu 5 fee. This fee, again, is likely to be passed down to the reader along with the tax.

We are trying to encourage a reading culture. The tax may be necessary by law, but beyond that, there could be initiatives to keep prices from rising higher.

Perhaps, the authority could exempt book stores from paying the registration fees if they provide activities beyond that of a commercial entity to encourage reading, like organising reading sessions for children and organising book donations for rural schools, among others.

We must try and meet in the middle.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    The discussion in the post actually reminded me a short conversation I once had with a fellow traveller as we both waited for a connecting flight at an airport’s waiting lobby.

    He was carrying with him an internationally best selling title and for rather long, he seemed lost in one single page of it. When I actually enquired about it a bit reluctantly; this is what he said for an answer,”I usually get bored travelling alone and don’t know what to do or where to look at. So I prefer carrying a book. What about you?”. Now I didn’t know what to say, but still managed something,”I only carry a pair of dark glasses with me as I usually prefer to read only at my study.”

    This short conversation may feel like a bit out of relevance, but it’s probably relevant when we are talking BICMA’s intention to filter out rubbish with its recently introduced publication rules. If reading is only about a culture, a bookstore can even be considered a lively and fulfilling inventory of countless printed pages of knowledge and information. And for one for whom reading is a worship, a bookstore is a temple of its unique type.

    But this is also true that majority of today’s reading happens online. The actual quality of the reading or viewing materials are always upto a reader’s sense of judgement and of his personal intellectual satisfaction levels. There is the library and one can even feel technologically enabled once inside. And still, the importance of a bookstore remains as it is even beyond course related books for students. Even the formats are changing from just texts to audiovisual readings.

    To meet in the middle, the book stores probably need to reconsider the reading culture and even reading as a worship through varying business models. But any innovation here only makes sense when the reading culture is in the right shape for it.

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