We explored the conditions for publishing in South-East Asia with IPA Board Member, Trasvin Jittidecharak. As she reveals, the overall outlook is positive thanks to favourable macro-economics and demographics, however publishers are experiencing a number of challenges: piracy, threats to copyright and freedom of expression, and an infrastructure & technology shortage which hampers the development of digital publishing.
IPA Regional Focus: Publishing in South-East Asia
With the 30th International Publishers Congress taking place in March 2014 in Bangkok, we talked with Trasvin Jittidecharak from Silkworm Books about the thriving publishing sector in South-East Asia, a dynamic region of over 600 million inhabitants.
Q1. How are conditions for publishers in South-East Asia?
The overall picture is very positive, thanks to the economic and demographic context. Domestic markets are growing steadily. This year, Cambodia’s GDP will rise by 7.5%, Indonesia and The Philippines by 6%, Vietnam by 5.5%, Malaysia and Thailand by 5% (Asian Development Bank figures). All these countries have young populations. ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) will achieve full economic integration in 2015, which should further boost growth.
Q2. What are the biggest challenges facing South-East Asian publishers today?
In Thailand, distribution is a problem. Book stores, particularly independents, are feeling the strain, under pressure from a combination of high urban rents and a pricing structure that means their margins are too thin. Across the region, copyright and piracy are concerns. My own book was pirated widely in Cambodia, and there was little I could do about it. Freedom of expression is also a concern. Publishers here are used to self-censorship. Each country has its taboos, which publishers need to work around.
Q3. How is the e-book market developing?
Slowly. It’s hampered by a lack of infrastructure. E-book technology is too expensive for publishers to invest in, Apple has no ibooks store in South-East Asia and devices remain unaffordable for most readers. Once the cost of technology comes down, the demand will be there.
Q4. How are customers’ expectations and behaviour changing?
There is a sharp divide between urban and rural. In cities, where purchasing power is higher, there’s a thirst for knowledge and people are increasingly demanding access to information. Habits are changing slower in the countryside, where books remain a luxury item.
Q5. What are the biggest opportunities you see for publishers in South-East Asia?
When you look at the region’s demographic pyramid, it’s clear that the real opportunity is in education - school text books, not only K-12 but also vocational learning. Given that English will be ASEAN’s working language, there will be huge demand for Englishlanguage learning and materials. There’s a big opportunity there.