It’s war

Eddie Luk
Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Textbook publishers have declared war on the government and pulled back price lists that were to be revealed today.
The move came hours after the administration announced plans to set up a HK$50 million fund to develop electronic textbooks in a bid to break the monopoly by a handful of publishers.

Then, in a joint statement last night, the Hong Kong Educational Publishers Association and the Anglo-Chinese Textbook Publishers Organization said they are dissatisfied with the Education Bureau’s scheme to allow teachers to get free teaching materials from publishers and are withdrawing their price lists.
The groups also expressed regret over what they see as an abrupt policy change.

Allowing teachers to get free materials from publishers will boost publication costs by 30 to 50 percent, they said. So they will reassess prices before submitting them to the government.
Officials in the Education Bureau, meanwhile, said they respect the publishers’ decision and will keep negotiating with them over the issue.

Elas Tsang Wai-man, general manager of Smart Education Co, a member of the Hong Kong Educational Publishers Association, said the cost of textbooks has been rising along with higher prices for paper and also because of the implementation of the minimum wage.

Earlier in the day, the Education Bureau said 222 of 723 textbooks sold independently of kits for primary and junior secondary school students have increased 2 percent on average, though some cost 3.5 perce

nt more.
The prices of 102 textbooks dropped by 1.4 percent while the remaining 399 are unchanged.
The bureau also said the price of 80 percent of 1,868 school textbooks sold along with teaching kits has increased an average 4 percent.

Education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung said the administration had no alternative but to try to offset the domination of publishers in the textbook market.
He said electronic books are only one alternative to change a market operation that is “seriously twisted."
“Over the past year, only a small number of textbook publishers have split their teaching kits, and the prices of textbooks have not been reduced," Suen said.

“As such, we are deeply dissatisfied with the situation."
To strike at the root of the problem, Suen added, it is necessary to explore the electronic textbook market as well as to seek more textbook suppliers.
Suen said the administration will ask the Legislative Council’s finance panel to approve a HK$50 million fund to support not-for-profit organizations and universities to develop electronic textbooks for launch in 2014.

Initially, about 50 primary and secondary schools will use e-textbooks on a trial basis and the Education Bureau will help schools upgrade systems with this in mind.
Suen said e-textbooks cost 20 to 50 percent less than printed books.
The not-for-profit organizations involved must sign contracts for six years and give clear reasons for any increase in textbook prices.

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