Considered a "petty crime", book theft has not gained much public attention despite the Bt300 million in losses it caused last year to the Thai publishing industry.
This prompted a leading publisher, SE-Education (SE-ED), to set up a special investigation team and the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) to propose installing chips in book covers to prevent theft.
Last week, a former employee of a Nai-in bookshop in Nontha-buri, Mek Boonsith, was arrested after he was caught taking stolen books to a second-hand bookshop.
A Pathumwan second-hand bookshop owner said that with books ordered from a company that quoted prices at 50 to 70 per cent cheaper than the book's cover price, a shop owner could then sell the books to the public at a 20 to 30 per cent discount.
Losses from stolen books accounted for 0.8 per cent of SE-ED's total sales in 2002. Four years later, it had risen to 1.6 per cent, prompting the firm to set up an investigating team and install security cameras.
A method to the madness
SE-ED executive Wiroj Lakkhana-anusorn said a one-year study revealed the method used by book thieves. Gang members would scout the targeted bookshop for a week beforehand. The thefts mostly occurred during quieter times of the day, when employees were occupied with accounting or on a break.
"This type of crime won't disappear because it's easy, profitable and has a rather light punishment," he said.
Thailand's publishing industry totalled Bt16 billion in 2007, while book thefts were estimated to have caused losses of Bt300 million, according to a study by Chulalongkorn University Book Centre and SE-ED. If publishers do decide to put chips in book covers, the cost will fall on readers.