The need to read is no joking matter

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The need to read is no joking matter

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You must have seen these tire advertisements on the street. One of the most common phrases is, “Tires Cheaper than Shoes!” This is not a false statement since the price of shoes varies drastically; it is catchy and clever to compare shoes to tires.

However, I had a second thought on shoes as I reviewed a Statistics Korea report about money spent on books. Households with more than two family members spent 20,570 won ($18.30) on books and spent 22,784 won on shoes. The amount spent on books was lower than that spent on shoes for the first time since the survey began in 2003. And the statistics even included the money spent on textbooks and other study materials for students.

This is a disturbing trend. Statistics do not spring up by themselves, and there are several reasons behind the decrease in spending on books. Nowadays, smartphones offer tons of content, and e-books are more widely used. Faced with these changes, several publishing companies went bankrupt last year. Distributors, too, have collapsed, and smaller publishers are struggling in the aftershock. But the fundamental crisis is simply that people aren’t spending enough time to read books anymore.

Han In-seob, a professor at Seoul National University, knows the importance of reading. He posted a tweet once that said, “When your child goes to the bookstore to buy a workbook, make sure you give extra money to buy one more book. The child would surely read the book he chooses. He will look through two dozen books to choose one. He may choose one, but with more than 20 potential reading materials in his head, his insight and perspective will be wider.” But nowadays, this is unlikely.

In a few days, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is to declare the “Year of Reading” in an attempt to reverse this trend. Radio and television announcements will contain the slogan, “It is time to read.” Campaigns will encourage reading for 20 minutes a day and will tell parents to read bedtime stories to their children. Plans for reading competitions and discussion sessions are in the works, too. But I’m not sure these ideas will really work.

Ha Eung-baek, the president of publisher Human and Books, is more realistic. He suggested eliminating the VAT levied on the publishing industry. In election season, this specific and solid policy would be more convincing to voters than other rosy and far-fetched promises.

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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