As South Africans continue under level 4 of the nationwide lockdown, the value of #OURSTORIES become increasingly important in different ways. The simple power and joy of reading a book enables us to take flight out of our homes or current situations. The need to share and read stories of strength and struggle, hope and endurance, love and tragedy during COVID-19 helps us to stay connected and provide support to one another. The crucial recording of this moment by our book industry means we will be able to share this unprecedented historical event with generations to come.
It is gratifying that the easing of lockdown restrictions in Level 4 includes the sale of educational books. However, we join our colleagues and partners in the broader industry in motivating for all books to be considered an essential service. As you can see from some of the initiatives outlined below, the industry is hard-at-work behind the scenes to ensure the necessary safety and other measures are in place across all areas of the sector. We commend and support their efforts in this – and in getting the sector fully operational.
The South African Booksellers Association (SABA), while acknowledging the need for the lockdown at this time, made an appeal for some trading opportunities to resume within the book sector. In a letter, Melvin Kaabwe (President of SABA), emphasised the need for continued economic activity in an industry that was already under financial pressure prior to lockdown. He reiterated the crucial need for vulnerable scholars, students and the aged to have access to literature for their studies and positive well-being, and the importance of access to thought-provoking information which is fact-based during this pandemic. Kaabwe further committed SABA to working with the government to ensure that the necessary opening and operating safety protocols are implemented, as booksellers resume operation.
In a letter to the minister of Trade and Industry, Mpuka Radinku, Executive Director of PASA, requested that educational textbooks be declared an essential service in order to support education. PASA has welcomed the Government’s inclusion of educational books in Level 4 of the Draft Framework for Sectors. This will enable the continued delivery of education and training through the provision of textbooks and other educational materials.
Following the release of the Draft Framework for Sectors on 25 April 2020, PASA received more inputs and comments from non-education publishers who publish general/trade books. The publishers have requested and urged the Minister of Trade and Industry to consider expanding the segment to include all books which would thereby extend the definition to include categories such as all children’s books, general books and religious books to be sold under the Level 4 banner.
The Library and Information Services of South Africa (LIASA), while commending the allowing the trade of educational books during level 4, has made an appeal for all books to be considered educational.
While South African publishers acknowledge the need among locked-down readers to obtain new books and share them with friends, they have noted the distribution on social media of illegally copied books. The Publishers’ Association of South Africa (PASA) released a statement to guide readers to legal ways of obtaining and sharing books and reiterated the need to act firmly against repeat transgressors in order to help protect our creative industries and authors. Read the full press statement here.
In addition to the appeals from SABA and PASA, appeals were also made by the paper and print sectors for the lifting of some of the restrictions in order to allow the full value chain within the book sector to resume.
328 published South African authors, academics and readers wrote an open letter to President Cyril Ramaposa appealing for all books to be made available for trade from 1 May 2020 at Level 4 of Covid-19 Lockdown.
National Book Week and The South African Book Fair are engaging in multiple initiatives – to both offer some financial relief to practitioners within our industry and bring the immense value of the book to the forefront of the public space. Below are some of these, with more being added in the coming months.
With school closed and a lockdown in place, books and stories have come to occupy an even more important role in the lives of children and families – whether providing respite and solace from the hardships of daily life or as an important part of the day’s activities.
Many local and international publishers have been offering a range of free e-books to help parents and guardians cope and children focus their energies on reading during the lockdown. For our part, National Book Week has initiated an online storytelling event, with some of South Africa’s most talented storytellers joining us to livestream stories on our Facebook page. Read more about how NBW is helping traditional storytellers hone their craft on a new medium – and so enable South Africans to enjoy the power of stories without leaving their homes. Click here to listen to these beautiful stories
In honour of our writers and celebrating World Book and Copyright Day, on 28 April, the South African Book Fair held an important online discussion about free books and the value of copyright in providing writers with life-sustaining royalties. The hour-long panel discussion included a line-up of award-winning authors and participants including Dudu Busani-Dube, Flow Wellington, Michelle Constant, Pamela Power, Pumla Dineo Gqola and Thabiso Mahlape. The World Book and Copyright Day discussion was the first in a series of online discussions that forms part of The South African Book Development Council’s commitment to supporting innovation and progress within the sector and bringing the power of reading to all South Africans. If you missed the discussion you can access the recording here.
The South African Book Development Council (SABDC), in association with the Fibre Processing & Manufacturing Seta (FP&M Seta), utilises the South African Book Fair as a platform to increase access to mainstream opportunities. Through the SABF exhibitor subsidies, it enables SMME publishers and entrepreneurs in the book sector to participate in our annual national book fair. We would like to invite registered book publishing companies and entrepreneurs to apply (before 22 May 2020) for the subsidy to participate in the South African Book Fair Marketplace, taking place 9 – 13 September 2020. More info here.