Tough times benefit used book sellers


Friday February 10 2023


Various textbooks for both primary and high school on display for sale on the streets within Huruma Estate. FILE PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Second-hand book sellers are cashing in on economic hardships that have seen parents avoid shopping for expensive new course books.

Bookshops stocking old textbooks are sprouting in residential areas and online spaces with operators offering the learning materials at more than half the price.

The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA)-which represents 99 percent of local publishers– has decried what it says is an over 50 percent drop in sales for its members in the open market this peak season compared to the previous ones as parents opt for used textbooks.

“Whereas in the other years at the peak season, a publisher would move 30,000 copies of a particular course book, today they are barely selling 10,000 copies of the same book,” said KPA chairman Kamau Kiarie.

Read: Piracy of school books costs publishers Sh200m annually

While a new course book would go for Sh550, a used-books vendor would sell the same for as low as Sh200 with others offering parents the option of swapping next-grade books at a minimal exchange rate.

The open market mostly caters for parents with learners in private schools since those in public institutions are sorted through the government’s direct procurement from publishers.

Usually, the first term is a peak season for publishers as learners transition to the next class which requires them to have a new set of books and is also the period Form One students report to schools.

Delayed school reopening date also had a bearing on the depressed sales registered by publishers who have piracy menace to grapple with.

“Publishers hardly sold in early January and only started getting something from January 20 majorly from the last-minute rush due to the back to school,” said Mr Kiarie.

The high cost of textbooks is fueled by the 16 percent VAT charge on books, which publishers have unsuccessfully lobbied the government to scrap for years now.

“A book that we should be selling to the market at say Sh400, we are having to sell it at Sh464 because the VAT is actually pushed to the end user,” he explained.

Publishers say they are losing up to Sh200 million every year to piracy of set books, amid revelations the culprits have upgraded to offshore printing.

Read: Nine publishers win Sh3bn Grade Seven textbooks deal

Piracy has increased over the recent past with the copies going for the same price as the original, even as publishers lament unresolved lawsuits dragging in courts for years.

Unscrupulous traders take advantage of technology to copy books which closely resemble the original prints, selling through bookshops, street vendors or directly to parents and schools, leaving publishers counting losses.

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Jay Ndungu

Jay is a computer scientist and journalist with a passion for the intersection of technology and society. He has a background in computer science, developing a deep understanding of the technical aspects of the industry, including programming languages and software development methodologies. Currently, He writes for Nairobi Times, covering a wide range of topics including technology, politics, sports, and entertainment. With his unique combination of technical knowledge and journalistic experience, Jay brings a unique perspective to the stories he covers, able to explain complex technical concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. His work is dedicated to bridge the gap between technology and society, and to make people more aware of the potential of technology to make the world a better place.

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