Asian Publishers Gather in Seoul to Talk Shop, Bestsellers, Digital

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

• The first Asian Publishers’ Fellowship program was hosted by the Korean Publishers Society in Seoul earlier this month. The project aims to be a starting point for building a strong Asian publishers network.

• Attendees discussed what makes a bestseller, the current business climate and “the digital question.”

By Linda Tan

SEOUL: The Korean Publishers Society (KOPUS) recently organized the inaugural Asian Publishers’ Fellowship program which was held in Seoul from 6 to 10 September. Fifteen editors and publishers from Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong made up the first group.

Mr. Su-Yeong Kim, the committee member of KOPUS in charge of international affairs, first conceived the fellowship program after having attended the Frankfurt fellowship program several times. In Europe, the network among publishers is very strong, said Mr Kim and he hopes that this might the starting point for building a strong network of publishers in Asia.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Mr. Ramachandran, Executive Director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in May 2010. The festival aimed to provide opportunities for writers, illustrators and publishers to get together and to encourage “Asian children’s content for the world” -– the theme of the festival.

Are we seeing an awakening of publishers in Asia? This is not unreasonable seeing that about four billion people or 60% of the world’s population live in Asia and with the rise of the two Asian giants –- China and India -– there must surely be more opportunities for the publishing industry just as there were for the manufacturing and the IT industries.

Some argue that the diversity of languages in Asia makes it difficult for publishers to gain economies of scale. This is the advantage that western publishers who publish in the English language have — to print and sell worldwide in large quantities.

Nevertheless, this argument does not hold true for China where bestsellers reach sales of millions of copies. It was also interesting to note during the program that foreign titles, from the west as well as from Asia, frequently make the bestseller lists in Asia as well.

Bestsellers, Both Foreign and Domestic

Ms. Li Xin, deputy editor-in-chief at Thingkingdom Media Group Ltd, China explained that the criteria for selection of foreign titles is often based on whether it’s already a bestseller, in addition to the author and content.

One of the titles mentioned by Ms. Li Xin was 1Q84 by Murakami Haruki. The first simplified Chinese edition was published in April 2010 and has since sold one million copies.

Rober Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad alone sold two million copies while that of the series sold in total 5.5 million copies, a record sales.

For Taiwan, with a population of 23 million, Ms. Emily Chuang, deputy editor-in-chief of Crown Culture Corporation noted record sales of 20,000 copies within three months for some foreign titles, something that justifies inviting the author for publicity events in Taiwan. Bestsellers can reach sale of 100,000 copies.

Needless to say, several Asian titles are also proving popular across the region.

For example, in Thailand, according to Ms. Sirivillai Buasiri, editor-in-chief at Siam Inter Multimedia Plc, martial arts stories from Taiwan are very popular and Korean books based on TV drama series such as Dae Jang-geum top the bestseller lists.

And at the top of the children’s bestseller list in China is the simplified Chinese edition of Totto Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Kuroyanagi Tetsuko, originally published in 1981 by Kodansha Publishers Ltd, Japan. First published in China in 2003, the book has since sold 3 million copies and has stayed on the bestseller list for a record 77 months.

Tomorrow, in the second part of our report, we look at how Asian publishers are confronting “the digital question.”

Linda Tan was the Malaysian representative at the first Asian Publishers Fellowship Program in Seoul, 2010. She is a director of the Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency Sdn Bhd in Kuala Lumpur.

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