More thoughts on Indonesian project to buy copyrights

April 7, 2008, [MD]

(Background here, here and here) From Kompas, April 7, 2008, through [i:boekoe], Rab A. Broto, director of the Sekolah Penulis Pembelajar (School of Writing and Learning?).

It cannot be denied that the policy of the government to buy copyrights of text books, as was mentioned in the Department of Education (DoE) Policy Number 2, 2008, threatens the existence of text book publishers. However, this policy is appropriate.

Publishers have so far proved not to be good partners because they are only concerned with their own profits.

The main reason for supporting the policy of the DoE is to remember that quality and cheap education is the right of each citizen. This is important since the price of text books will certainly determine the progress and the future of our nation.

In short, this time the government should get a thumbs-up for their policy. Hopefully this policy will benefit the nation’s children and not be dirtied by short-term goals. An important point is the objectivity of the National Education Standards Body (BSNP) in choosing the books whose copyrights they will buy.

There will certainly still be protests concerning the books chosen. But this is where citizens’ involvement and supervision is needed, especially to promote a mechanism that guarantees transparency.

Wasting hundreds of billions

So far publishers have put too much emphasis on profits, and not cared enough about the people. An example is the fact that parents have to buy new books for their children each year, because the old books cannot be used. [We see this all over the world.]

The corrupt system is like a mafia, which includes the publishers, printers, bureacrats at the MoE, intermediaries, and even head masters and school teachers.

We can imagine how such a broken system causes the wasting of hundreds of billions of rupiah each year. According to Junaidi Gafar in Kompas, March 24, in Indonesia there are about 150 publishers of text books, and their turnover averages to around 10 billion Rp (\$1.09 mln) per year.

And this waste could be used to make the students smarter, and above all increase the welfare of teachers with a more sustainable method. Because of this, the policy of buying copyrights needs to be supported by all parties.

The buying of copyrights is a step towards decentralization. How can this empower many parties who until now were just spectators.

The policy can also contribute to increase the quality of education. Buying copyrights of manuscripts can induce teachers to continually work to increase their competency. This could include collaborating with other parties and develop technology to develop text books that are high quality, both in terms of contents and presentation.

In this way, the doubts about the design and editing of the books will certainly not be a problem because there are many ways of solving this. For example, collaborating with free-lance designers that there are so many of. The human resources are sufficient, both in terms of graduates of graphics academies, and printing practitioners. A better method perhaps, is to collect these books to improve the design, and carefully edit them collaboratively, before uploading them to the internet.

Be clear about pushing the price

Apart from all this, the buying of copyrights for manuscripts of text books for elementary school to high school is clearly going to benefit those who need books. It’s enough for them to access the internet and within short time they can get text books very cheaply.

Talking about the structure of costs for book publishers - which is reflected in the price of the books - the distribution cost is usually the biggest cost, up to 53%. Printing costs about 15%, royalties to the author 10%, and the rest is profit for the publisher.

This is assuming that the book is only printed in 3000 copies. Thus, the profit can certainly be a lot higher if it is printed in more copies. This seems to be the main objection of the publishers who have been defending unhealthy practices in the book trade until now, something that smells of corruption, collusion and nepotism (KKN).

Another thing we need to think about is the possibility that the books have ads, like newspapers and magazines. If this happens, maybe the books can be distributed among people freely, and government funding can be used for other educational activities. We just have to organize it clearly - with a reason that is responsible - which page in the book can have ads, and what kind of ads can appear in a text book. What kind of company wouldn’t be interested in sponsoring something that is printed in hundreds of thousands of copies and distributed in all of Indonesia?

The policy of the government to buy copyrights is not intended to entirely close the opportunities of the publishers, they are only asked to reduce their profits. Consumers will of course not run away if the printed products of the publishers are much better than what they can themselves print from the internet.

So it is not appropriate that some are against this policy, if they want the education of the people to progress. Isn’t it time that we utilize the advances in technology which can press down prices? Should we keep conserving a system that isn’t appropriate anymore, not effective, and hurts many people?

It is interesting to see more analysis coming in about this topic. None of the articles have so far made reference to any similar projects other places in the world. In addition, what I am looking for is of course a recognition of new ways of authoring books, collaborating, and perhaps even moving away from the concept of a fixed national text book, to a collection of resources that teachers can compose to their own package. But perhaps that is still too advanced.


Stian Håklev April 7, 2008 Toronto, Canada
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