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#BuySingLit and its focus good for local literature scene

In an era where YouTube and Netflix dominate people's leisure time and attention spans, books are getting 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 best-sellers.

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 this Friday to Sunday, they are holding book fairs, meet-and-greets and storytelling workshops for children.

What sets #BuySingLit apart from existing campaigns, such as the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF), is its focus and its emphasis on purchase.

The SWF last year drew a record attendance of more than 20,000 and featured more than 240 local literary talents and about 80 international creative talents.

#BuySingLit's focus, however, is uniquely local.

With its walking tours and heartland book drops, 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.

It also stresses buying and not just reading - borrowing local titles from the library may open one's eyes, but 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 family-friendly events over the #BuySingLit weekend.

Kids 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 in 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 writers of books from which a nation's identity can emerge.

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