A steep decline in the number of publishers producing textbooks for next year's new senior secondary curricula has led to fears that prices will skyrocket. There is also concern that there will be little choice. According to information provided by the Education Bureau, 18 publishers have submitted textbook drafts for 14 subjects for the next academic year for vetting, down by nearly 70 per cent on 1996 when 58 publishers produced textbooks for secondary subjects. The bureau said 49 of 164 packages comprising textbooks and assignment books for the new curriculum failed to pass initial vetting this year. Those who failed the first round of vetting resubmitted revised versions in October and the results will be released in January. Wong Wai-man, president of the Hong Kong Educational Publishers' Association, said the publishing industry faced unprecedented challenges. 'It is the first time in my 20 years in the industry that I have seen publishers design new books for all subjects,' he said. 'All the uncertainties of the new academic system and the shrinking student population have vastly undermined our profit margins.' Ben Mak Ka-lung, sales and marketing director with Oxford University Press, said the company had to inject capital investment to design the new books and employed 40 extra people in the past year. 'Although a small portion of extant material can be used, most of it is brand new. The rush to find experienced authors and editors to make the new textbooks and a shortage of people well-versed in the new curriculum presented challenges in terms of staff recruitment,' he said. Shirley Wong She-lai, former chairwoman of the Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council and principal of TWGH Kap Yan Directors' College, was worried about possible price increases and restricted choice. 'As the number of publishers in the market will probably decrease, we hope they will have a social conscience and not make use of the opportunity to raise prices steeply.' May Chan Siu-wan, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Parents' Association, was also concerned about a possible price rise. 'I spend HK$2,000 per year on textbooks for my Form Two daughter. Further price increases will add to my financial burden,' she said. A bureau spokeswoman said it was having discussions with publishers to seek a reasonable way to set prices.