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The 2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival, which took place last weekend, seemed to steer clear of any major controversy. Perhaps this is because the crises that seize the national consciousness with such frequency have occupied the minds of the writers, poets, journalists and talking heads who take over the town once a year. Of course, the festival remains overwhelmingly affluent and white. This reflects how the organisers see their market. But it also underlines a more fundamental concern: the affordability of books. Why are books so expensive in SA? Let’s start with the basics. We have a population of about 55-million people, of whom about 17-million depend on social grants. Grant values range from about R380 per month for child support to R1,620 for pensioners over 75. It is reasonable to assume that people relying on state support have pressing food, clothing, transport and shelter needs that make buying a book an impossible luxury. Statistics SA reports that about 21-million peop...

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