3 July 2013
The New Word Sellers
Dania Shawwa, founder
The rise of the online book business may be creating an international marketplace for regional publishers, but making it work is another thing entirely, according to Hong Kong-based Dania Shawwa, publisher of Haven Books.
Ms Shawwa has taken on a broad range of titles that would appeal to readers living anywhere. But while several of her company’s books have earned media praise in the United Kingdom and the United States, sales have not reflected the good publicity. “They did not necessarily translate into books being sold,” says the publisher, who is now reviewing her list to focus more on local, Asian-centric titles. After years of covering all publishing costs and offering royalties to writers, Ms Shawwa is now looking to co-publish or co-invest to make her business viable.
Adopting the e-book model allows Mr Moore to avoid shipping, distribution and warehousing costs. Distribution can be a challenge for publishers in Hong Kong. Some Hong Kong presses have benefited from partnerships with larger, well-established publishers overseas to access distribution channels.
But other Hong Kong publishers have not been as fortunate. Mary Chan of MCCM Creations has spent 15 years trying to convince distributors to take her entire list of titles. MCCM publishes a mix of locally focused visually driven cultural books, as well as fiction and picture books. She says distributors are interested only in specific genres.
Pete Spurrier of Blacksmith Books, which specialises in Asian non-fiction
Subject matter also plays a part. Blacksmith Books deals in Asian non-fiction which, he says, outsells fiction and poetry enough that he can afford to ship at least a pallet’s worth to distributors in the UK and US. “When you are shipping this amount, the cost of transport per book really isn't that high, so the economics work,” he says. He’s focused on getting his books into smaller and independent bookstores to support those businesses.
Sticking to a niche market is vital, says Peter Gordon, who runs Chameleon Press. The publisher produces about two to three books of poetry a year. “We know how to make money from that,” he says. Anything that doesn’t fit the remit may get a recommendation from Mr Gordon but not a contract.
Triena Ong, President of the
In Singapore, where the homegrown Page One bookstore and Borders closed, a few e-bookstores are making headway, including local e-book seller Skoob. But international retailers Amazon and Book Depository take a significant share, accounting for about 20 per cent of the local market, according to a report by Singapore-based Peter Schoppert for the Publishers Association.
The Singapore Book Publishers Association is helping its members go digital. One programme sponsored by the city-state’s Media Development Authority allows publishers to receive funding in order to convert out-of-print and existing titles to e-formats.
“There is a fear that e-books will cannibalise print,” says Arief Hakim, of the Malaysian Book Publishers Association
In Malaysia, e-books still represent only a small percentage of sales, but government and libraries are buying electronic titles and will lead the market, according to Arief Hakim of the Malaysian Book Publishers Association. He says that publishers have been reluctant to enter unfamiliar territory. “There is a fear that e-books will cannibalise print,” Mr Hakim says. Until market demands forces greater changes, the situation will remain “chicken and egg,” he says. “Small users equal small content.”
Amy Chonrungsee Chalermchaikit of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand
In Hong Kong and Singapore, the quest for self-improvement keeps sales of business titles and self-help strong, and Ms Ong says specialty booksellers providing poetry or Asian-focused titles can still be profitable, despite high rental costs.
Pubat is running book fairs and holding publisher conferences in Thailand to help develop the city into a publishing centre
In Indonesia, there’s continuing disputes between government and textbook publishers over curriculum changes and a government scheme to upload content as PDFs. Nova Rasdiana of the Indonesian Book Publishers Association says Indonesian publishers face the high upfront costs that international publishers demand on new sales. Low local currency value means that the standard rate overseas companies require is cost-prohibitive for publishers who buy foreign titles. Ms Rasdiana would like to see more room for negotiation, a chance to co-publish or reduced advance payments in favour of a royalty-based system.
If the move to e-content has been slow, adaption to other electronic media has not. Across the board, Asian publishers are now providing a web presence. Larger houses can quickly set up an online storefront, while boutique enterprises make use of free social media outlets such as Facebook to reach consumers. These multiple channels have opened the field, according to Ms Ong, who is upbeat about the industry’s regional prospects.
“I’m of the view that publishers haven’t had to change; they still publish books. Now they have the added advantage of being able to use new channels,” she says. “I think publishers have never had it so good.”
ASEAN Book Publishers Association
Malaysian Book Publishers Association
Singapore Book Publishers Association