With a new venue set for 2020, the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair organisers DEWAN Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) are facing down suggestions that the fair should charge visitors for entrance, to cover the costs of running the event.

The suggestion was raised last week by Patriots Publication editorial director Syazrul Aqram Iman, who noted many other international book fairs charge for entry, and proposed a fee of MYR1 for a one-day entrance and MYR8 for unlimited entry across the event’s duration.

That’s about USD 0.25, but we have to factor in the spending power of Malaysian booklovers before concluding that is inexpensive.

The move could bring in an estimated MYR200,000-300,000 (USD 48,000-72,000), and as Syazrul Aqram explains,

This is important for the event to survive. There won’t be such a thing like insufficient capital; not enough money for marketing; the lack of agreement from industry; exhibitors not being able to afford participation, or asking for government’s help and political intervention.

We believe visitors would accept this and would not see it as a burden.

But DBP director Datuk Abang Sallehuddin Abang Shokeran preferred alternative measures to bring in much needed cashflow for the event.

In my opinion, there are better methods for the organisers to address cost issues such as saving, optimising spending, avoiding leakage and sponsorship.

Other stakeholders shared the view that the event should be free to the public.

Malaysian Book Publishers Association president Arief Hakim Sani Rahmat said,

Among organisers there have been no suggestions or decisions to charge an entry fee for visitors.

The Malaysian Reserve notes that both the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs charge a substantial fee for entrance, but that’s not to compare like with like. These are trade events attended mainly by publishing industry professionals, with a token nod to the public, whereas the Kuala Lumpur event is primarily public-facing.

Also last week it was announced the annual book fair, next to be run March 27 – April 5 2020, would be moved from the Putra World Trade Centre to the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park in Serdang, but many were unimpressed.

It is speculated that the move has been made because the rental fees for the current venue are too high (hence the suggestion for entrance fees for visitors), while the new venue is said to be more cramped, largely open-air, with fewer refreshments options and poor public transport support.

Given the city will become the UNESCO World Book Capital in April it seems a particularly bad time to change venues to a less well-provided facility, when there will be a special focus on books and publishing.

Matters are further complicated by the fact that the official website of the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair is showing an “account” suspended notice.

More on this story as it develops.