The two brothers, Mengistu and Dino Ismail, 29 and 26, from Waira, Wolliso, in the Guraghe Zone of the Southern Regional State, have been in the business of selling foreign magazines for a long period of time.
Particularly for the older brother, who previously worked long hours cleaning shoes and serving at a small restaurant, selling magazines was much better work.
“I used to send money to my younger brothers [in Wolisso], because I could afford it,” he says.
But now the situation has changed. He is rueful. The small room he lives in, he says, has gone up in rent from 90 Br to 400 Br a month over the last seven years. His income from the magazine has remained at a steady 60 Br a day.
He gets his magazines from people doing labour work at Ethiopia Airlines. Now they get him fewer magazines and not always the latest editions. Sometimes these people tear away the cover pages to get rid of the Ethiopian stamp, but then Mengistu’s customers do not want to buy them.
He has not lost customers, but unfortunately, they are buying fewer copies.
That the price of the magazines has gone up from 10 Br or less, to 20 Br, and even 50 Br has not provided him with any benefit, other than maintaining his income level.
“Sometimes, I sell them at a discount, simply because I have to cover my daily and weekly expenses,” says Mengistu.
The customers of these second hand copies, who see them an important way of updating themselves with international affairs, are also finding them in short supply and at a higher price.
Detective novelist, Yilma Haileyes, 75, whose books include – Agatami and Yabekyelesh’s Nuzazie – has been reading foreign magazines, such as The Economist and Time, since the late 1960s.
“They were almost the only sources of global information for our generation,” he recalls.
New copies of The Economist sold for only 75 cents, at the Jano Perolos Book Centre, around CinemaEthiopia, in those early days.
“Nowadays, we cannot even buy our own newspapers,” he says.
Today, Book World sells The Economist for 94 Br and Time for 45Br.While the company has institutional and individual clients who get their copies at high prices for others, such as Journalism & Communication students.
For Shewangiza Afework this is unthinkable.
He would like to get copies of the magazines, in order to hone his journalism skills, but not at that price.
“I wish I had access to these magazines,” he says.
Mogess Mengistie, 33, has been selling old magazines on the street in front of CinemaEthiopia for the last 10 years; for him, the Internet is the enemy.
“My old customers now have access to the internet, so they do not need me to provide them with outdated copies,” he says.
At his age, he is worried that he will have to move back to his parents’ place, unless he switches business.
As Moges and Mengistu despair in sales, Yilma thinks that the inaccessibility of the magazines contributes to a poorer reading culture.
From the perspective of PenEthiopiatoo, the inconvenience has its own impact, although it is not as serious as with distributors and customers who seek to access the magazines for their own consumption. Dejenie, who describes the publications as ‘lit orate items’, is convinced that the high price of such publications, although only relevant to a certain section of society, has its own negative impact, with regards to creating readers who intend to analyse and interpret what they read.
The fact that only a few people can afford these publications, both in terms of price and content, is a major concern, according to Dejenie Tessema, Secretary with Pen Ethiopia, an institution that works to promote mass reading.
“Only a few people are aware of the existence of publications, such as The Readers Digest,” He says, adding that the increased accessibility of foreign publications would play an invaluable role in promoting the reading culture and creating critical individuals who can look into themselves deeply, as is the case with the writers in those publications, which is the intention of Pen Ethiopia, according to him.
Teshale Yohannes seems to be immune to the problems such sellers and readers complain about. His bids for the magazines at Ethiopian Airlines, offering 1.5 Br to five Birr a kilo. He distributes those magazines to venders who resell them to readers, but they account for a small portion of his business. Most of what he gets from Ethiopian gets sold to small shops, which tear the pages to use as packaging.
“The price varies depending on the nature of the paper, not the content of the magazine,” he says.
The Airline issues a tender every two years for companies that want to buy the old magazines, according to Halu Teklehaimanot, senior public relations officer.
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