Before the coronavirus pandemic invaded the country, the publishing industry was in its heyday. But within a span of nearly one year, the printing and publishing business plummeted to an unexpected low in more than a generation.
According to entrepreneurs, the sector has already counted a loss of about Tk15,000 crore since March 2020.
Of them, Printing Industries Association of Bangladesh (PIAB) incurred a loss of Tk8,000 crore, Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity lost about Tk7,500-Tk8,000 crore and Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashak Samity had a loss of more than Tk200 crore.
Khondoker Printing and Packaging has been doing business since 1994. The owner expanded his business volume by adding new printing machinery to the existing ones between 2015 and 2020 through new investment in the form of bank loans and previous profits.
But after the pandemic broke out last year, the business entity at Matuail in the capital began to count a monthly loss of at least Tk6 lakh.
The owner is trying his best to save his business, but it will be tough after February next as he has to pay a monthly loan installment of Tk8 lakh alongside his regular expenditure of Tk6 lakh.
The owner of Khondoker Printing and Packaging, Rayhan Khondoker, told The Business Standard that this was his family business.
"We had a dream that it would be one of the largest printing presses in the country, but fortune did not favour me. The coronavirus has plunged me into a financial abyss."
He said he has to spend Tk2 lakh on factory rent, another Tk2 lakh on bank interest and more than Tk2 lakh on staff salaries and other expenditures.
"I have been going through hard times since March last year. Now I am ruined."
Like Khondoker, most owners of printing houses are in dire straits and trying to survive somehow.
People involved in the sector said their business had been on the rise since 2010, but now they are apprehending a massive disaster if the situation continues for long.
Even the Ekushey Book Fair is also uncertain as the Bangla Academy authorities are yet to fix any date for the fair to begin.
Meanwhile, the peak period for books and other materials to be printed is over as printers usually complete their work by January every year. But this year, only 10% work has been done so far, according to PIAB.
PIAB president Shahid Serniabat told TBS printers had never imagined they would face such a crisis.
"The industry had been in bad shape after the Liberation War in 1971. It had turned into one of the rising sectors since 2010. But now we are on the brink of ruin."
Shahid Serniabat narrated that there were 7,500 printing presses across the country, with each just trying to survive.
"The amount of our loss is more than Tk8,000 crore since March last year."
Mizanur Rahman Patwari – owner of Mizan Publishers – echoed Serniabat's sentiments.
Being in the publishing business for over 42 years, the seasoned businessman said he had never ever faced such a financial crisis of this magnitude.
"My sales have plummeted since March this year due to the pandemic, and thus I have incurred a loss of around Tk20 crore."
Shyamol Paul, vice-president of Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity, told The Business Standard that the association has around 26,000 members and more than 1.5 lakh staff. All of them are counting a loss of Tk2.60 crore per day.
"We have had a total loss of Tk7,500 to Tk8,000 crore since March 2020. It will not be possible to sustain the business if the coronavirus situation does not improve or the government does not give us a stimulus package."
According to PIAB, the printing and publishing industry is geared to books, garment accessories, medicine and food accessories and also involved in other business entities.
Of them, 2,500 printing presses are there for books, 2,000 for garment accessories, 500 for food services and others are engaged in serving myriad businesses.
Monirul Haque, owner of Ananya Prakashani and executive director of Bangladesh Gyan O Srijonshil Prokashak Samity, said his firm has been counting a loss of Tk2 lakh per month.
"We have 206 members, and everyone is in dire straits. Our members have suffered losses of around Tk250 crore since the country went for a shutdown."
According to Tofayel Khan, president of Textbook Printing and Marketing Association, textbook printing owners are incurring losses as the price of paper has increased remarkably.
No government funds for publishing sector
Bangladesh Pustak Prokashak and Bikreta Samity sought Tk100 crore from the government at the beginning of the crisis, but to no avail.
"We appealed to the prime minister and the commerce minister seeking a stimulus package to revive the publishing sector, but we have not had any response yet," said Shyamol Pal, vice-president of the samity.
He added that it would have been a great help if government funds had been available at the beginning of the crisis, which has deepened further.
Many publishing houses are yet to get back to the rails as they are hard up now and government support is a long shot, Shyamol maintained.
Venting his frustration, Monirul Haque said his press printed creative and other books which have not yet been sold.
"We want the government buy our books for educational institutions and offices. It will be a great help for us. The Primary and Mass Education Ministry can play an important role in this regard."
Ekushey Book Fair uncertain
Altogether 4,919 new books arrived at the Ekushey Book Fair in 2020, with total sales amounting to Tk82 crore, according to Bangla Academy.
The number of new arrivals was 4,834 in 2019, 4,591 in 2018, 3,646 in 2017 and 3,444 in 2016.
But the holding of the fair is almost uncertain this year since the Bangla Academy authorities are still undecided about the issue due to the raging pandemic.
In this context, Monirul Haque said they had urged the Bangla Academy authorities to hold the fair from 18 February to 17 March.
The last date for fee submission was 31 December last year.
"It is unlikely that the fair will begin in February. It will also be tough to start it in March since the rainy season will come in. So, we have to count further losses."