Physical books are once again becoming the more popular choice for avid readers after technological alternatives such as Kindles and tablets took over the market. The bookbinding and printing industry of South Africa is taking the bull by the horns to ensure the country does not miss this opportunity.

There are numerous reports that show the general inclination towards e-books in developed markets has begun to change direction.

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For example, according to a report issued by The Guardian, “screen fatigue” in the United Kingdom propelled printed book sales to reach a five-year high in the year 2016.

There was a 17% decline in e-book sales in 2016 which made it the lowest level since the Kindle first took the UK by storm in 2011.

There is reason to believe that for now, South Africa’s e-book sales continue to grow even if it’s only at a rate of 2% according to CEO of the South African Book Development Council (SABDC), Elitha van der Sandt.

Due to South Africa’s high level of inequality, e-books are not accessible to a large part of the population which makes it different to other more developed markets. Therefore, SA’s market share is limited.

However, overall trends indicate that physical books have definitely regained market share, which is likely to be true for South Africa too.

Printing and Bookbinding in South Africa

The printing and bookbinding industry of South Africa are planning to campaign for books to be printed and bound in SA rather than anywhere else. This is particularly true for local books.

The SABDC, Printing SA and the SA Typographical Union are planning to hold a conference aimed at reawakening the packaging, signage and printing industry of South Africa. Part of the discussions will be the subject of printing of books outside of the country.

South Africa has no Book Policy

Books are often printed outside of SA because there is no policy that regulates the publishing of books and no incentives to print books in South Africa. Increasing accessibility to physical books is not treated holistically according to van der Sandt.

Yet there are industries which are arguably less important which are receiving incentives as well as government subsidies. South Africa has a motor industry development plan which indicates that cars are more important to the government than books.

The book industry is an important contributor to the GDP in many ways, yet South Africa has not yet acknowledged the importance of the book industry.

South Africa would have the opportunity to develop skills and secure jobs if more books were printed in the country. This will have a hugely positive impact on the industry, economy and education system of SA. Without an effective book policy and development plan, this will not happen.

Importance of printed books in South African Homes

According to van der Sandt, there is much work to be done in order to get South Africans to read. Only 14% of the population are committed to reading books. Furthermore, statistics show that up to 58% of South African households do not possess a single reading book.

The growth and development of the South African economy that is desperately needed at this time depends largely on a well-read society.

An extensive study that took place across 27 countries over 20 years indicates that having physical books in the home strongly affects the children’s educational achievement. The education level of the parents, the father’s occupation or the country’s GDP are not considered as important as the presence of books in a home.

However, some publishers in South Africa seem to believe that the overall book market in the country is stagnant.

According to a spokesperson for Penguin Random House South Africa states that although the sales of e-books have definitely declined, the sales of physical books are still gradually declining.

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