Publishing Perspectives Staff Report
The National Book Council Promotes Rights AvailabilitiesParticularly with the still-developing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic news that the B.1.1.529 “omicron” variant is under international study—and amid so many nations’ travel restrictions relative to the unknown potential ramifications of that study—many professionals in world publishing are watching carefully for signs of how business could be affected.
This autumn, the National Book Council of Malaysia has been promoting the international rights availabilities of books from its market, and a part of this effort has been the creation of a catalogue called “Stories from the Malaysian Archipelago” (PDF), featuring—in English—a look at 50 of the titles that may travel best across languages and frontiers.
The council was established by the ministry of education in 1968, based on a UNESCO declaration which recommended the establishment of a special body responsible to promote the reading interest and the foster book industry among developing nations.
Members of the council come from several ministries and organizations involved in the book industry, and it’s the council that produces both the national stand for Malaysia—you may have seen them at Frankfurter Buchmesse—and the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair.
Included are works for adults and children, fiction and nonfiction, illustrated work, educational materials and “Malaysiana”—works about the country’s culture and character.
‘Controlling Unstable Cash Flows’
One of the publishers featured in the “Stories from the Malaysian Archipelago” catalogue is Kuala Lumpur-based Patriots Publishing. CEO Syazrul Aqram is one of many global publishers who’s watching closely the fallout from the pandemic.
“In general, we’re known as publishers of historical, political, social, and science books for commercial publication purposes,” Aqram says.
“Our book publishing company started in 2015, but our activities started in 2011, the company then being focused on electronic media which was publishing articles related to history, current affairs, economics, and science.
Patriots Publishing Pvt. Ltd. is a subsidiary of Patriots Holding Pvt. Ltd. “Our parent company also has other business branches such as electronic media, agriculture, as well as fiscal management services,” Aqram says.
Producing between 18 and 25 new titles yearly, Patriots is a small independent house with a staff of 15.
‘Printing Factories Were Unable to Operate’
So far, Aqram says, the business has experienced “mixed impact on our business,” as he looks over the effects understood before the detection of the omicron variant.
Echoing so many of his peers in international book markets, he says, “Our online book sales increased, but our sales in bookstores dropped a lot.
“Of course, this situation presents a difficult challenge to us,” he says, “in controlling unstable cash flows. However, we’d expected something like this would happen. Therefore, various efforts were made to overcome it, so that we didn’t lay off our employees and didn’t cut their salaries.”
And supply chain issues?
“The hardest impact on us,” Aqram says, “was when the printing factories were unable to operate.” Many printers were closed for extensive periods, he says, as the initial brunt of the contagion coincided with Kuala Lumpur opening its year as UNESCO’s World Book Capital.
The Outlook for 2022
“Based on the current rate at which a majority of Malaysians have been vaccinated,” Aqram says, “we’re confident that the book market in Malaysia will recover gradually in 2022.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and 2021, most companies, including ours,” he says, “focused advertising and marketing on social media. This has provided us a chance to introduce our books to new readers. The data collected from that will be fully utilized to keep on moving forward.”
And that data has shown Aqram and his team something about their consumers’ demographics. “We choose to be optimistic that the book market in Malaysia can recover,” he says, “because since the pandemic hit, we’ve seen many young people in Malaysia beginning to venture into the book industry, becoming writers, setting up new book clubs, and most importantly showing support for local books.
“We think of this as a positive development, as the involvement of youngsters will have a positive impact on our reading campaigns, as well as escalating the book industry activities in Malaysia. As Jose Rizal, the ‘hero of the Philippines,’ said, ‘The youth are the hope of our future.’”
The Coronavirus in Malaysia
At this writing, the 4:21 a.m. ET (0921 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees on a 28-day rolling basis, 151,43 cases in Malaysia’s population of 32 million, with 1,380 fatalities. During the full run of the pandemic, Malaysia has reported a total 2,632,782 cases and 30,425 deaths.
In terms of the national context as this article is written, just today (November 30), Malaysia’s defense minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, has clarified that the country is holding off on its planned transition to a self-defined “endemic” stage of the virus’ progress and remaining in an official recognition of the pandemic stage.
As with many world leaders, Hishammuddin has told the news media—as reported by Terrence Tan and Marin Carvalho for The Star—that he and his colleagues in the cabinet, after extensive debate, have decided that should the B.1.1529 variant, “omicron,” lead to a new wave of COVID-19 infections, then Malaysia’s progress in the pandemic at risk.
After the steep rise in cases seen in so many nations in August, Malaysia has seen a correspondingly quick drop of to some of its lowest numbers since the late spring of this year.
Still, even after opening its new bridge and causeway link with Singapore—where “Live With COVID-19” is the relevant motto—restrictions now have been placed by Kuala Lumpur on travel from the southern African region, joining what is reported to be more than 50 countries.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.