Soaring prices of academic text books have made them unreachable to many parents, forcing them to go for pirate copies that are far much cheaper, usually a tenth the cost of original legal copies.
Photocopies are sold on the streets by illegal traders who display covers of the popular text books on most street corners, sometimes right in front of bookshops.
The price gaps are so wide that there have been calls for publishers to print cheaper editions to fill the needs and still ensure authors receive royalties.
Generally, on long print runs, as will school text books, printing should be significantly cheaper than photocopying and even with royalties added to the legal editions, they could be produced at prices not that much higher than illegal copies.
Although it is an offence to reprint or make photocopies of original books for sale in terms of the copyright laws, the practice has been welcomed as overburdened parents struggle to pay fees for their children and the gap between legal and illegal copies is so vast.
A survey carried out by The Herald showed that a set of seven textbooks for primary school pupils is ranging between $1 400 and $1 800 at most bookshops, while the same set of photocopies cost between $229 and $344 on the streets.
At INNOV 8 Bookshop along George Silundika Avenue, Harare, a set of seven Grade Three (Ventures) textbooks was selling at $1 760, while illegal traders operating from Roselyn Building along Nelson Mandela Avenue are selling the same as photocopies for US$14, which translates to ZWL$229,60 using the interbank rate of US$1: $16,40 or around $310 if the parent has to buy US dollars on the black market using mobile money.
Copies of each textbook for primary school grades are selling at between US$2 and US$3 on the streets.
Photocopies of most secondary school textbooks (Step Ahead) are going for US$5 each on the streets, while they cost between $350 and $700 each in city bookshops.
Some parents are going for original, but second-hand books that cost between US$5 and US$8 ($82 and $131,20) each on the streets.
Zimbabwe Writers Association chairperson and Zimbabwe Book Fair Association board member Ms Monica Cheru-Mupambawashe blamed publishing companies for failing to produce cheaper study material for the huge market.
She said the authors were the ones losing out and urged the relevant authorities to come up with a national book policy to curb the illegal practice.
“One cannot really blame people for finding the most affordable option,” she said.
“After all, if you are buying textbooks as an individual you do not need strong expensive editions because your child only needs it for a year or less, then you have to get a new set.
“There is a clear market for cheaper books. What is puzzling is why publishing houses seem not to care about this big market. Unfortunately, the author is the one who loses out.
“We need a national book policy that takes all things into consideration.
“Current laws and policies are antiquated and not designed to look at cheap reproduction of books as an opportunity if done under licence.”
Deputy national police spokesperson Chief Superintendent Blessmore Chishaka said piracy was an offence.
“In terms of the Copyright Act, it is an offence to photocopy and sell somebody’s material,” he said.
“As police, we continuously conduct raids and arrest all those involved in such practices.”
Piracy, though it came as a relief to parents and school children, has affected business for bookshops in the city, if not around the country.
Innov8 Bookshop’s managing director Mr Peace Muwani cried foul over piracy, with some unscrupulous traders selling the pirated books right in front of the registered bookshops.
“Due to the economic hardships affecting our nation, people will always look for alternatives and in this case, they are opting for pirate copies which are cheaper,” he said.
“However, this has affected our business.
“For the past decade, we have been facing this challenge and there seems to be no solution to it.”
One of the vendors who refused to be named said they were making a good profit from pirate copies.
“We take advantage of the desperate parents and offer cheaper copies of the much-needed textbooks,” he said.
“I even deliver copies to my clients’ homes whenever they place an order. Our prices are affordable and these days we are enjoying brisk business.
“I started this business five years ago and I am enjoying it. I am managing to send my children to school and cater for all their needs.”
Parents who spoke to The Herald said they had no choice but to buy from vendors, who are charging less for the books.
“I have since stopped buying from these shops,” said one parent only identified as Mr Musariri.
“They are charging high prices for a set of books which my daughter will only use for a year and discard. The $1 700 charge is too much for me, that is why I am buying all my books from the streets. After all, the content is just the same,”
Another parent said it was pointless buying expensive books from a shop, yet there were cheaper ones on the streets.
“I have two children, one in Grade Three and the other one in Grade Six,” she said.
“I cannot raise over $3 000 to buy books for the two children from bookshops. I cannot afford to be that extravagant at a time schools are charging thousands of dollars in school fees.”
Some parents experienced challenges in buying photocopies.
Some photocopies are of extremely poor quality, while others have missing pages.
Most of them are printed in black and white, making it difficult for infants who learn about colours.