Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Essay: The Impact of Laws on the Publishing Industry

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

When talking about the publishing industry, it's also important to bear in mind that it's not a free market. There are other factors--some transparent and predictable, others not so--that come into play which could be either beneficial or detrimental. One good example is Venezuela where a policy implemented by government a year ago might spell the end of import books in a few month's time. One would expect that it'll take years before citizens would feel the effects of such a ruling but that's not the case. Publishers, distributors, and retailers are scrambling to stay in business and honestly, defeat appears inevitable unless the laws themselves are reversed.

The Philippines faced a similar situation a few months ago, although perhaps not as catastrophic as Venezuela's situation. The Department of Finance decided to tax import books, and those who failed to comply were swallowed by red tape and storage fees. To the common Filipino, this was a cold war between distributors/retailers and the government. Thankfully, through action by various organizations and individuals (government officials, Unesco, the National Book Development Board, writers, bloggers, etc.), the policy was suspended. Unfortunately, I don't think the public realizes how close we came to losing that battle, or the impact it has on their lives. When it was brought to the attention of the media for example, more than a few were okay with the idea of taxing import books.

The latest plot by the Department of Finance is to tax individual citizens whenever they claim books from the post-office. What used to be an arbitrary, illegal implementation (technically, they shouldn't be charging citizens although some do end up paying while others not) has now become a codified and systematic policy. Unfortunately, unlike the previous scenario, there is no buzz in the media, and while we have defenders striving to combat this injustice, there's simply not much awareness on the issue by the public.

Of course between the two, we Filipinos won the fight that has a much bigger impact. Taxation on distributors and retailers affects every Filipino. Taxation on individual mail honestly impacts the middle and upper-class more frequently, although the biggest burden will be upon the lower-class who receives import books via the post.

But whether the policy to charge import books via the post is voided or not, that is not what readers should be concerned. The bigger issue here is that there is an influential body of government that insists on imposing handicaps to the general readership. This is not a scenario of a single unthoughtful law passed into congress. No, what we are facing are foes who are adaptive and resourceful, who will exploit every rule and loophole in order to squeeze every penny from its citizens. If there's any consistency in all this, it's the Department of Finance who continues to play the role of antagonist. I hardly doubt it if this silent war stops here. In the coming months, there'll be new rules and policies that will be legislated, and who knows if any of those will prove detrimental to the Filipino eager to read books.

I don't think the Philippines will suffer the fate of Venezuela overnight, but if the common foe proves to be as implacable as I suspect, then the gap between the literate and illiterate will only widen. New technologies such as eBooks might pop up to promote reading and education, but everyone is limited by domestic law.

1 comment:

banzai cat said...

And of course, the conceptual problem here lies in the fact that the government does not think that reading (and books) answers a basic need, i.e. considers it as a luxury activity that should be taxed. Of course one could say that certain books (or certain economic classes) should be taxed while others shouldn't. But then again, who and where do you draw the line?