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At Hong Kong Book Fair, 1 Million Expected, 40% Buy English

By Dan Stahl

The London Olympics isn’t the only international extravaganza where records may be broken this summer. After drawing an unprecedented 950,000 people in 2011, the Hong Kong Book Fair, which runs 18-24 July, could reach a million this year. To put that number in context, the Frankfurt Book Fair attracted about 300,000 visitors last year, while the London Book Fair drew 25,000.

What should attendees expect, besides a long line outside the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, where the fair is located? The answer may surprise you: lots of English. Already a hub of Chinese publishing, Hong Kong is delving ever deeper into the English-language market. According to the HKBF website, roughly 40% of people surveyed at last year’s fair came to buy books in English.

The fair’s “English Avenue” testifies to this trend. One of HKBF’s themed zones, it was established as an area for publishers and distributors to exhibit English-language publications. Over the past few years, increasing foot traffic along the Avenue has necessitated its enlargement.

That expansion is no anomaly. HKBF 2012 is welcoming English literature with open arms, if not a kiss on the lips. The lineup of events includes English seminars, creative writing workshops, and public sessions. Special attention goes to Hong Kong authors writing in English. A touch of ambivalence about Anglicization is perceptible among this sect. The title of a panel discussion on Hong Kong English authors is “Doing What Comes Unnaturally — The Perils and Promises of Writing about Hong Kong in English.”

Less surprising than the prominence of English-language literature at HKBF is that of digital publishing. The Future Book Store, which debuted at last year’s fair, will again showcase e-books and distribution. E-reading is where it’s at, and HKBF knows it. Visitors can walk from English Avenue to the e-Books & e-Learning Resources zone. This area, too, has seen expansion — it will be 72% bigger in 2012 than in 2011.

For a complete list of themed zones and events, go here and here, respectively. Now in its 23rd “edition,” HKBF has built a loyal following. Expect lots of sequels.

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