Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Day 5: Singapore Writers Festival

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. During the Singapore Writers Festival, (SWF) which is on now, and runs through until November 8, daily posts will offer a flavour of events in the Lion City.

So: Day 5...

This was day 2 of the publishing symposium jointly organised by the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) and the Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF) - for fuller details of the symposium see the post yesterday.

The focus today shifted towards efforts by regional publishers to create an ASEAN community of readers. Accordingly there were market briefings on Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Indonesia was this year's guest of honour at FBF. It is also the guest of honour at SWF.

Indonesia’s literature is little known even in its near neighbour, Singapore, let alone in the rest of the world. To begin to redress this, SWF has asked speakers such as Indonesian man of letters, Goenawan Mohamad, to explore Indonesia’s aspirations; to consider how 252 million Indonesians think and dream; to trace continuities between the literature of ancient Indonesia and the up-to-the-minute literature of contemporary Indonesia.

The market focus on Indonesia at the publishing symposium thus fit well with the broader aims of SWF.  The session was introduced by Claudia Kaiser, Vice President, Business Development, FBF - she is based in Jakarta and has special responsibility for South East Asia.  She told me yesterday that Indonesia at Frankfurt was a great success, and made a big splash.

The presentation was given by Laura Prinsloo, of the Indonesian Publishers Association. She was Vice Chief of the Book Committee for Indonesia as the Guest of Honour at FBF 2015.

Laura kicked off by showing a video of the Indonesian pavilion at Frankfurt. I can't find the video she showed, but there is another, similar one here.

After the video, Laura explained she is a numbers woman, before launching into a blizzard of figures. She told us, for instance: that Indonesia has 726 local languages, but only 1 official language, Bahasa Indonesia; that the country has 70,000 libraries; that literacy is not a problem, as shown by the fact that 88 million Indonesians use the internet; that despite the high rate of literacy,  according to the U.N., only 0.1% of the population shows an interest in reading books; that the average print-run for books across all types - textbooks, children's books - is 3,000 copies; that of book readers, 68% are women, and 32% men. 

She then presented some depressing statistics showing that book sales in Indonesia are falling. Gramedia is the country's largest book shop chain - with 113 stores. In 2010 it sold more books than non-books - meaning stationary, toys, cards, and so on. But by 2014 47% of its sales came from books, and 53% from non-books.

Still, things then turned more cheerful: Laura began to talk about the legacy of Indonesia's experience at Frankfurt. She said she thought that the international exposure had led Indonesian publishers to think they must up their game: "They realise they've got to produce fewer, better quality products. To get the marketing right. The packaging right. The cover - people do judge a book by its cover." 

Laura then revealed her final number: as a result of attending FBF, Indonesian publishers are now in negotiation to sell foreign rights in 406 home grown titles: "Indonesian authors and publishers have gained confidence from their exposure at Frankfurt. It's very exciting. They are all busy with new products."