1) We have a National Book Policy?
2) What does the National Book Policy say about books anyway?
Since I don't have the time to drop by my favourite legal bookstore (probably because I don't know where to find one) to get myself a copy of the latest edition of Dasar Buku Negara, I did a little googling around and this is what I found:
The National Book Policy was approved by the Cabinet in 1985 and was drafted to ensure that
- books in the Malay language play an effective role as as a tool for the development of the social and cultural mind in line with the country's needs and ambition;
- books are enjoyed by all levels of society in this country;
- people in this country have a strong interest in reading;
- books published in this country achieve a high standard both in content as well as in its physical form.
So now, after having spent millions on library roofs, the government wants to put its foot down and get serious. They're taking out their fingers and pointing it at everyone they can point it at.
"The previous book policy," Rais Yatim says, "had not succeeded because there had been no concerted effort by booksellers to promote local books."
And not because the government didn't really do anything about it themselves and we don't want to blame ourselves because we're politicians and we hate taking the blame like REAL MEN, he failed to add.
"Publishers can find creative methods of branding, positioning and marketing books at affordable prices to significantly encourage the reading habit," Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said.
"Ouch," MPH CEO Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan probably said to himself. And by right he should.
Because not only does MPH promote local books by staging readings, meet-the-author events and talks, they're very willing to promote a local author by placing their books in prominent places in their outlets.
The other bookstores aren't lax in promoting local authors either. I've seen local books - ones in Malay no less - being displayed prominently in Popular, Borders and Kinokuniya. Sure, some of the bookstores need a little push now and then, and certainly things can be improved, but blaming the failure of the policy wholly on booksellers seems a little harsh to me.
Most Malaysian readers - those who definitely read more than two books per year - when asked to comment about the new revision to the policy said, "What's the difference? It's going to mostly benefit people who read Malay books and those books are already cheap anyway."
Others said, "the new tax incentive sounds cool. Now if I only brought home an above-RM2500 salary to take advantage of it."
What do I say?
Whatever. Go build a new library roof, Dr. Rais Yatim.