In an era where YouTube and Netflix dominate people's leisure time and attention spans, books are becoming harder to sell. It is doubly difficult for Singapore authors, who are often passed over by the very audiences they write for, in favour of international bestsellers and self-help books.
To address this flagging readership, publishers, distributors and bookstores are rallying around the #BuySingLit campaign, an industry first, to get Singaporeans to buy more local literature.
From Feb 24 to 26, they are holding book fairs, author meet-and-greet sessions, and storytelling workshops for children. They are even selling tiny ticket books commuters can read on the train.
What sets #BuySingLit apart from initiatives such as the National Reading Movement and the Singapore Writers Festival is its local focus and emphasis on purchase. It targets the three out of four Singaporeans who have yet to read a literary book by a local writer, according to a National Arts Council survey two years ago.
The campaign also stresses buying, not just reading. Borrowing local titles does little for the earnings of the authors, most of whom cannot rely on writing full-time. Not to mention their publishers, who often champion home-grown writing at the risk of ending up in the red.
The Government could pump more funds into the literary scene, but if Singapore is to keep producing quality literature that is not beholden to a sponsor's agenda, demand has to grow organically.
It is thus a good move to have so many family-friendly events over the #BuySingLit weekend. Children who grow up with not just Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, but also Sherlock Sam and Amos Lee, learn the taste of seeing themselves in the books they read, before the insecurity of being a small nation with a small literary output closes their minds against their own stories.
#BuySingLit is a good start but its momentum must continue for years to come if Singapore is to raise generations of not just readers, but also writers, of books from which a nation's identity can emerge.