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Abundant Afghan Books Finding Fewer Readers

FILE: A library in Jalalabad, Afghanistan
FILE: A library in Jalalabad, Afghanistan

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- Publishers in Afghanistan are printing more books than ever before, but fewer readers are interested in buying them as reading habits are spoiled by social media addictions in a country where less than half of the population can read and write.

Zahidullah Khan, a bookseller in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, say that while the number of publishers has multiplied amid a booming printing industry over the past 16 years, there are fewer readers buying the books being printed.

“If you compare our situation with other countries, for example, neighboring Pakistan, we are able to sell far fewer books,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “There, most first editions have 10,000 copies sold within weeks or a month, but here we only publish 1,000 copies and are hardly able to sell them in one year.”

Khan says that while millions of students need to obtain and read books, most of them only study the books prescribed in their curriculum.

Abdullah, an engineering student in Jalalabad who goes by one name only, says the growing use of social media keeps his peers from reading books.

“When students are immersed in Facebook, they have little time for reading books,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Growing Internet use also prevents teachers and professors from pushing students to study more.”

Abdullah says the parents of most of his classmates are illiterate. Such a family environment, he says, hinders students from growing up in an atmosphere where books are central to learning.

“It is obvious that whoever studies books will have a bright future, but it is not a priority here,” he said.

Mohibullah Allahyar, an academic in Jalalabad, is trying to groom healthy reading habits by encouraging students to first understand why they need to read books.

“In order to motivate them, I recommend students to first read material that will help them understand how far their learning will increase and how their minds will open if they study books,” he said.

Historically, the government had near absolute control over printing books in Afghanistan, but it changed during the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s when Afghan refugees developed independent publishing houses in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere.

While most of them have moved back to Afghanistan, they are competing against mushrooming media, growing access to the Internet, and addiction to social media to grab the attention of Afghan readers.

Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Shah Mahmud Shinwari reported this story from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

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