Booksellers of Tehran falling on hard times

Thu Feb 24, 2011 12:41pm EST
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By Ramin Mostafavi

TEHRAN (Reuters Life!) - As Pejman Soltani stacked books of Persian literature in his Tehran shop, he was far from hopeful that they would be flying off the shelves any time soon.

Tough financial times have pushed Iranians to tighten their belts and increasingly consider books a luxury. Combined with stricter government controls on publishing, booksellers like Soltani are concerned for the future.

"Customers often ask if there is a discount on book prices. I ask you, do you get a discount on a sandwich?" Soltani said in an interview with Reuters in the chic two-storey Vistar bookshop in downtown Tehran.

The head of Sales, another bookstore which, like Vistar, is also a publishing house, made the news recently when he said he was considering closing down his famous shop.

Mohammad Ali Jafarieh told the semi-official ILNA news agency in January, that more than 40 Tehran bookshops had already closed.

Iranians are feeling the pinch from radical cuts in state subsidies, a plan President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called "the biggest economic plan in the past 50 years."

The cuts in long-standing subsidies on essentials like fuel and food do not directly affect books, but cuts to some $100 billion of annual subsidies which have kept prices artificially low for decades, is having a knock-on effect on demand for books, store owners and customers say.

Crucially, while the subsidy cuts are pushing up prices of gasoline, food and utility bills, the price of books cannot rise with inflation at least until the next print run.   Continued...