Bookshops in Herat Struggle as the Market Cools: Exploring Alternate Avenues

The growth of educational institutions in Afghanistan was a significant achievement during the Republican era. Over the past two decades, a strong interest in studying has emerged among many young people in both urban and rural areas. This enthusiasm among students and youth has driven the publishing market in major cities. However, the downfall of the Republic regime, the closure of schools and universities for girls, economic poverty, and political instability in the country have discouraged young people from pursuing education and purchasing books. This ongoing situation has had a detrimental impact on the publishing and book-selling industry. Book vendors in the province of Herat report facing financial losses instead of profits in the past year. Many of these vendors are compelled to sell books at half price and seek alternative employment.

Aziz Ahmad (pseudonym), a book vendor in the province of Herat, spoke to the Hasht-e Subh Daily and explained that he used to earn a living from this profession in previous years. However, sales have been poor in the past year, and the costs of rent and electricity for the shop have become a significant burden. Aziz Ahmad emphasizes, “After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, our business had a good period initially, but for the past year, I swear, we have been personally covering the rent of 8,500 Afghanis per month and an electricity bill of 2,000 Afghanis or less.”

The book vendor explains, “People no longer buy books. Only English books are being purchased, and that too by girls and boys attending English Training Courses, while the rest of the books remain unsold in the shop. In previous years, university students used to buy books, but this year no student has come to purchase any.”

Aziz Ahmad, the owner of a bookshop located between Cinema Square and Flowers Square called ” Chowk-e Gulha,” concludes, “This shop is valued at 1.5 million Afghanis, and I am now willing to sell it for 600,000 or 700,000 Afghanis and pursue a different occupation. However, I haven’t found a buyer yet as this business no longer offers any benefits and has become a burden.”

Many booksellers have set up roadside stalls to sell books at very low prices. Sharif Ahmad (pseudonym), another bookseller in the city of Herat, has placed his books on the sidewalk near the Information and Culture Directorate of the province. Sherif Ahmad explains, “Our bookstore is situated by Flowers Square, known as Chowk-e Gulha. We have been running this bookstore for fifteen years, but for over a year now, no one visits the store to purchase books. Therefore, I decided to bring the books here, next to the Information and Culture Directorate of the province, and offer them for sale.”

The bookseller further explains, “We offer the books at less than half their original price to facilitate quick sales. For instance, this book was originally priced at 400 Afghanis, but we have listed it for sale at 150 Afghanis in the hope that someone will purchase it. Similarly, this other book used to be priced at 500 Afghanis, but we have now lowered it to 200 Afghanis, yet there are still no buyers.”

Book vendors in the city of Herat remember how they used to earn a decent income from selling books and study materials in previous years. However, the situation has changed now. They state that half of their customers were girls who are now confined to their homes, and even boys show minimal interest in studying and reading. The booksellers clarify that books related to English language training, religious sciences, and romantic novels still have steady sales, but the demand for other textbooks, especially scientific and philosophical ones, has significantly declined.

Mohammad Harris (pseudonym), a university professor in the province of Herat, informs the Hash-e Subh Daily, “The Taliban’s control over the country has cast a bleak outlook on the future of Afghan citizens, particularly those involved in academic institutions. The Taliban have imposed their version of education, directing resources towards these institutions. They view universities as Western symbols and are incompatible with their existence.”

The university professor adds, “The Taliban’s ignorant policies reflect the unfolding realities in our society. The suppression of girls’ education, the replacement of qualified individuals with Taliban militants in government offices, and the denial of education to girls have left young people with a sense of hopelessness and a bleak outlook on their future careers. Consequently, we are witnessing a decline in the book market, which is deeply distressing. It is disheartening to hear that booksellers are compelled to sell their books at half price.”

The closure of secondary schools, high schools, and universities for girls, economic poverty, the prioritization of religious schools over modern institutions, and the prevailing sense of despair among young people about the future have collectively led to a decline in interest in books. The majority of educated youth hold the belief that Afghanistan is not conducive to pursuing an education, as they prioritize securing a livelihood over studying. Consequently, rather than focusing on education and learning, their aspirations revolve around seeking a better life in the United States of America or Europe.