Publishers move to end textbook row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2011, 12:00am

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Publishers have agreed to separate sales of school textbooks from teaching materials in three key subjects, starting next year.

Their union announced the concession yesterday after education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung warned that the government could publish school textbooks itself to break their monopoly.

From the 2012/13 academic year, primary and junior secondary textbooks in Chinese, English and maths will be priced separately from teaching aids such as CD-Roms, study notes and guides - not all of which are used by students. Officials hope the 'debundling' will lower costs for parents.

Publishers say details of the debundling exercise will be published in September.

But the Education Bureau said yesterday it was not satisfied. A spokeswoman said the bureau wanted publishers to debundle all main textbooks, including question samples and teachers' textbooks, regardless of subject, within one year.

'Our demand has been clear,' the spokeswoman said. She refused to rule out the possibility of the government publishing textbooks. 'We should wait until details are released in September.'

Previously, publishers had claimed they would need three more years to complete the transition due to issues such as copyright.

Speaking at the Legislative Council yesterday, the chairman of the Anglo-Chinese Textbook Publishers Organisation, Edward Wong Sing, said textbooks for subjects such as Chinese, English and maths would be debundled first.

But he reiterated that it would take two more years to debundle textbooks in other subjects, such as those used for the senior secondary curriculum.

He did not indicate by how much prices might drop. Hong Kong Educational Publishers Association representative Wong Han said at the meeting that prices could drop by 10 to 25 per cent, using primary school Chinese books as an example.

Parents' groups welcomed the move, saying it was the first step towards further negotiations between different stakeholders.

Christopher Yu Wing-fai, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Family Education, a parents' concern group, said publishers must ensure prices dropped after debundling.

Raymond Jao, a parent and member of a government taskforce set up to tackle the issue of debundling, said the publishers' pledge was a step that could open the way for further discussions between publishers and the government.

$1.5b

The annual revenue, in Hong Kong dollars, of the textbook industry

- About 20 publishers operate in the industry, down from a peak of 60