The publisher of several knowledge and literature books. On 14 September 1908, the Dutch Indies government formed Commissie voor de Indlandsche School Volkslectuur (People’s Reading and Indigenous Education Commission) chaired by Dr. G.A.J. Hazeu with six members. The duty of this commission was to provide considerations to the Director of Education in selecting good essays to be used at school and become the reading materials of the people. This idea came up because of the doubts the Dutch Indies government had about the widespread publication of books from the private sector, which was politically disadvantageous.
This commission began carrying out its duties in 1910 when Dr. D.A Ringkes was the leader. Until 1916, this commission published books for the people. The types of stories published included folklore, puppet stories, summaries of old sagas, stories containing examples, and general knowledge books. This is why D.A. Ringkes was called Mr. Library. On 22 September 1917, Volkslectuur was changed to Balai Pustaka. Several pre-requisites of BP for book publications covered: (i) writings could not contain elements that were anti Dutch Indies government, (ii) writings could not offend a particular group or ethic group, and (iii) writings could not offend certain religious feelings. The books published by BP from 1922-1941 were distributed through elementary school libraries called Taman Pustaka. In addition, these books were sold to the public at a cheap price. The books were sold cheaply because of subsidies from the Dutch-Indies government ranging from f100.000 to f400.000 per year (One f cent= I liter of rice = Rp 350). Not only that, BP owned their own printing house, their own distribution system, and bought paper in bulk. During the Japanese colonization era (1942-1945), BP continued to publish an array of books, including Japanese propaganda books. Its operations continued because the Japanese were not very aware of the importance of this publisher as a cultural developer.
Two years after the Indonesian Independence (1945-1947), BP was still alive. However, a few months before 1948, its operations stopped due to social and political changes during the revolution. On 1 May 1948, Balai Pustaka was reinstated as a publisher under the Ministry of Education and Teaching. Finally, BP became Perusahaan Negara. The literature books published by Balai Pustaka during the pre-World War II period was not only important for the development of Indonesian modern literary history, but also for Javanese and Sundanese modern literary history.
The first Indonesian novels published by BP were Azabdan Sengsara authored by Marah Rusli (1922) and Salah Asuhan written by Abdul Muis (1928).
A number of Indonesian authors were once the editors of BP. Among them were S. Takdir Alisjahbana, Nur Sutan Iskandar, Achdiat K. Mihardja, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Utuy T. Sontani, Rusman Sutiasumarga, Hamid Jabbar, Abdul Hadi W.M. and Subagio Sastrowardoyo.