EghtesadOnline: Between December 22, 2018, and May 21, the print runs of books in Iran declined by 36%, dropping from an average of 1,878 to 1,175 whereas book prices rose by 37% from an average of 247,807 rials ($1.88) to 339,944 rials ($2.58).
According to the statistics published by Iran Book House, the number of book titles during the five-month period also dropped by 27% from 9,197 to 7,250, the Persian daily Donya-e-Eqtesad reported.
The main reason for this severe decline is the rising price of paper. For example, a ream (4.5 sheets or 70 grams) of publication paper increased by 50,000 rials (38 cents) on Tuesday compared with the preceding week to reach 5.05 million rials ($38.4).
Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Abbas Salehi recently said the government will allocate subsidized foreign currency at the rate of 42,000 rials per dollar for the import of 80,000 tons of copy and print paper in the current Iranian year (March 2019-20), according to Financial Tribune.
“A total of 39,000 tons of paper were imported last [fiscal] year [ended March 20, 2019] compared with 55,000 tons in the year before. The decline in imports has led to a paper market imbalance,” IRNA quoted Salehi as saying.
Noting that paper has been listed in Iran as essential goods even at the time of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the minister said paper shortage would create as many problems as the shortage of meat and chicken.
Publishers have seen an astonishing 340% rise in the prices of coated paper used in printing and packaging industry over the past year.
Many publishers and print media companies have been pushed out of the market ever since the recurrent episodes of paper price surges began.
While the government allocates subsidized foreign currency at the rate of 42,000 rials per dollar for paper imports, it’s nearly a year now that the Iranian rial is quoted above 130,000 to the US dollar in the open market.
This meaningful difference between the two rates has resulted in widespread corruption in the paper market, just like other markets where selected players have received subsidized dollars.
According to Mohammad Reza Modoudi, the caretaker of Trade Promotion Organization, there is no telling whether subsidized foreign currencies are spent on importing essential goods.
"Pricing goods, a hallmark of command economy, is known to beget corruption and rent-seeking behavior," he told the Persian daily Iran recently.
Investigative reporting by local journalists, including those of the Persian daily Shargh, has revealed that if only €22 million of the subsidized currencies allocated to two front companies for importing paper had been rightfully spent on importing newsprint, the ongoing paper crisis facing newspaper and magazine owners would have been resolved by now.
"Printing and writing papers are up to 95% dependent on imports. The country needs about 320,000 tons of printing paper annually. The ministry registered orders for the import of 442,000 tons of printing paper last year," says Deputy Industries Minister Farshad Moqimi.
“Imports and production stood at 270,000 and 22,000 tons, respectively, suggesting that the country stopped short of importing 28,000 tons of paper more than needed late last year.”