Books in demand once again

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By 2018-01-07

By Priyangwada Perera
Ceylon Today Features

"Walking out of the bookstore with books and stationary for the new term in hand, a beggar comes with a child who has a booklist in hand and begs you to buy a book for the child. Any sympathetic person will stop to listen to this plea. Depending on the requirement, a kind hearted customer would even offer to buy the book. In the case of it being a very expensive book, the chance is that the person would give at least half the money," said Ranjan Perera, Senior Manager of Sarasavi Bookshop, Nugegoda, who has been working for Sarasavi Bookshop, Nugegoda since its inception in 1972. He has seen all kinds of such situations.

"These people either simply take the money and disappear or if at all some wonderful unsuspecting person were to buy the book without giving them money, the crooks would re-sell it for a slightly cheaper price. The book might be Rs 5,000 but they trick someone into buying it for them and go out and sell it for Rs 3,000."

It is when there is so much enthusiasm in buying books at this time of the year, that these sorts of thieves put their tactics to practise. Do you remember the rustle of brown paper and the excitement of deciding which sticker or card to paste on which book? The new text books were a delight and the thought of going to a new grade was super exciting. The type written or hand written name tags that said your name and class were enticing. If you dig deep enough, may be you'd even unearth such a book from an old cupboard. A whole lot of memories would follow. I still envy the young ones who are privileged enough to do the same. Of course, they may not know it. Times have changed and there are many who believe that just a polythene cover is enough. Whatever said and done, with the start of the new school term, even more than the new school uniforms, it is the 'Book List' that dominates the list of requirements. Needless to say even these exercise books have become more beautiful and radiant, if you were to look back on the books of a good 50 years ago. But, new books for the new term are hardly the fairy tale we expect. While a majority of us look forward to the new book lists, new covers and stickers there is another lot to whom the new book list can be a nightmare.

Books and stationary being a craze some of us would never outgrow and this being the ideal time of the year to talk about the very items, Ceylon Today decided to do a little search and speak to keepers of book stores. Ranjan Perera who started his profession many years ago, having once being at the Lake House bookshop for some time, had plenty to share. How has the cost of books increased? asked Ceylon Today. "Those days I used to travel from Kiribathgoda to Nugegoda for 65 cents. So, it is crystal clear that there is a big change in society and the value of money. This is the peak time for us when it comes to exercise books. People also come for books on additional reading. They are what the schools or different teachers recommend that are mostly decided by each school. Nevertheless, they are approved by the Ministry of Education." Ceylon Today wondered how much these book-lists would cost. "International schools have very costly lists of books. Sometimes they come up to about Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000. They are mostly over Rs 10,000 and can even go up to about Rs 25,000. When it comes to text books, publishers vary and certain schools ask for specific text books to be bought." He said that over the years there had been quite an increase in the cost of books. "But when it comes to the school book-list, whether they are rich or poor, parents still buy them." If it is readily accepting the change or the fact that it gives them no choice is a matter to think about. Bookshop owners also buy books straight from the manufacturers who come to their shops and sell their products directly for 20% less.


Suresh Kumar, from the M. D. Gunasena branch at Hulfsdrop Street has been in the business for 15 years. "Now there are less people approaching bookshops. Publishers directly approach schools. They give good discounts. Parcels are made out of the booklist and the presentation is very attractive. We also go to sports meets and offer them our gift vouchers. We even solicit private companies. Instead of waiting for the customers to come to us, we take the initiative to meet the customer first," Kumar told Ceylon Today.

Speaking of the new school year, Suresh Kumar said that from 1 January to 15 January there is a big rush because of the new Grade 1 students. Stationary, lunch boxes, and everything that is needed is sold in their shops. "This is the season where children happily tag along their parents. When this happens, children manage to get their parents to buy them something or the other.

Sometimes the children cry and demand what they want." Speaking about the prices of the book-lists, Kumar said that the list of books for Grade 1 local schools will come up to about Rs 4,500 and it will stay in the same range till Grade 5. But the books needed in Grade 5 would be slightly more expensive. Then again Grades 6 and 7 would also cost more. "Books for international schools are more costly. While the local syllabus may cost Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 the international list may cost from Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000." Nevertheless, Kumar also said that since international schools start their year in September it is not those books that get sold in January. However, Kumar said that people are drifting from books to computers and tabs and it is only in outstation areas that there is more demand for books. "The prices of books differ according to the publisher. Other than text books, work books and books for extra reading are also bought along with the list.

Next to speak to Ceylon Today, was Anuradha Weerasekara, the Manager of Sadeepa Bookshop, Borella. "Every year, by 12 December, enthusiasm starts building up. Different schools and grades have different lists of books. The total cost depends on these differences. Now, primary grades have suggested books for extra reading. There are other subject related books that come in print for subjects like Sinhala, Math and Environmental Studies which have a good demand. Older children are interested in extra reading material because they are exam oriented." Weerasekara said there are a variety of books available in the stores. It was interesting to hear that even short notes for Maths and English Language come in print. "There is a great demand for these books of short notes. Schools start on 8 January and till then we are very busy. We try to get extra staff during the season. For smaller children, books cost Rs 2,000 and above. Some schools give the brand names of the products they require. In such cases, the price may double." Bags, bottles, colour pencils, clay and sets of mathematical instruments all get added to the lists. Weerasekara also said that the GSM square ruled books and the special five ruled books which are specifically designed for beginners in hand-writing, to learn the correct way of writing, are in big demand.

The book stores are more like beehives during the season. How do they manage with this rush? "Last year we had customers who tried to steal books. There is so much of a rush that they sneak in and lift the books. Once caught, they say they gave money to an assistant. This time we have put up boards asking that money be given only to the cashier." Thousands will start school again this year. Many more will go to the upper grades. The old books will go to an old cupboard. In their thankless job, the bookshops and the workers will silently contribute in making scholars, professionals and lovers of education.

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