Ahead of StoryDrive Asia: A View From the Singapore Book Publishers Association

In News by Porter Anderson

Singapore Book Publishers Association president Peter Schoppert sees mobile as huge, ebooks with little traction, and publishers ‘stepping up their game’ ahead of next week’s (November 13, 14) StoryDrive Asia.

Singapore Book Publishers Association president Peter Schoppert speaks at the 2016 StoryDrive Asia conference. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Favorable Tailwinds’

Singapore is a hub of Southeast Asian publishing, with the country’s growing economy and plenty of trends to be optimistic about, according to Peter Schoppert, president of the Singapore Book Publishers Association.

Schoppert and other experts from the region will be at next week’s StoryDrive Asia conference in Singapore (November 13-14). Organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair and the Singapore Book Publishers Association, the conference program aims to give regional publishers a forward-looking overview of digital publishing and international trends in the business.

Publishing Perspectives spoke with Schoppert for a quick update on where things stand in the city-state’s publishing market. In addition to serving as president of the association, he is the director of NUS Press, the publishing house of the National University of Singapore.

Peter Schoppert

Here, then, are some of Schoppert’s observations about Singapore and its book market.

  • The Singapore Book Publishers Association has some 70 publisher-members today.
  • There are thought to be another 40 to 50 additional organizations that may be publishing by one means or another occasionally. “We’re recruiting content-heavy ed-tech companies as members” these days, Schoppert says.
  • Approximately 9,000 books are published annually in Singapore, “although our National Library Board (the country’s ISBN agency) hasn’t released figures for a couple of years,” Schoppert says, “and Singapore lacks a ‘books in print’ catalogue,” as some other markets are provided by their ISBN agencies.

In terms of influential trends in Singapore’s market, Schoppert has several useful perspectives to offer.

  • “Favorable tailwinds,” Schoppert says, “include economic growth generally, population growth, tourism growth, and greater spending on entertainment.
  • “Headwinds” on the other hand, “hit educational publishing worse, with very slowly declining student populations. And this includes a shift of education spending from books to private tuition services.”

Among key challenges the Singapore publishing hub is facing:

  • “We’ve absorbed the impact of overseas online booksellers over the last 15 years or so,” Schoppert says, “and we estimate that they have around 20 percent of the trade market.
  • “Amazon Prime opened up in Singapore this year, but they carry a very limited list of books.
  • “Rents continue to be a major challenge for our retailers,” he says, “but pressures have moderated over the last couple of years. We lost considerable bookshelf space in 2010, but the situation has been relatively stable since then.”

One of the things we’re most interested in each year at StoryDrive Asia is the progress, or not, of digital publishing, so one thing we’ve asked Schoppert about is the place and play of ebooks in the market. Schoppert has an interesting answer for us:

“Ebooks are consumed in three ways in Singapore,” he says, pointing to a trio of contexts which, together, make Singapore rather singular in its position relative to digital reading.

  • “First through our National Library (about 2 million ebook loans per year vs, 32 million print book loans, in a population of some 5.6 million.
  • “Second, in terms of ebook retailers, only Kobo and Google Play operate in Singapore in online-only models, but there’s a fair amount of business for offshore retailers—Kindle, Apple, etc. No one has launched e-Ink readers and so on in Singapore.
  • “And third, we have to look at piracy. Some years ago, more than half of Singapore households admitted to using BitTorrent, mostly for video. But better over-the-top services from streaming players mean that piracy has probably gone down. Most of the BitTorrent sites feature ebooks for download.

“And this is a very different market structure,” Schoppert points out, “from other English markets.

“Only recently have local publishers jumped in to serve the first two markets,” of libraries and ebook retailers. “Those players with more of an export trade orientation to English markets have been doing ebooks for some time.”

Mobile: ‘150 Percent Penetration’
“There’s been a big burst of energy for Singaporean novels, thanks to the Epigram Books Fiction Prize. There’s a great deal of interest in Singapore educational material, too.”Peter Schoppert

And if that’s the state of ebooks in Singapore, we asked Schoppert, where does mobile stand?

“It’s huge,” he told us. “Singapore is a highly mobile market, with smartphone penetration of more than 150 percent, crazy as it sounds. There’s no dedicated e-reader market. Traffic to publisher websites is mostly mobile.”

Overall, Schoppert tells us, “Singapore trade publishers have stepped up their game rather dramatically in the last few years, with better design and marketing.

“There’s been a big burst of energy for Singaporean novels, thanks to the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.” Here’s Publishing Perspectives‘ conversation with Epigram’s Edmund Wee and Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Juergen Boos.

“There’s a great deal of interest in Singapore educational material, too,” says the Singapore Book Publishers Association’s Peter Schoppert, “with local textbook publishers making big strides in markets like the UK.”

For more information on Singapore’s StoryDrive Asia conference, November 13 and 14, see our story here, and the conference’s site, which includes registration information.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.