Beijing International Book Fair this year (23-27 August) was as lively as ever, due in part to the significant overseas contingent taking part. Of 2,400 exhibitors, 800 were non-Chinese, coming from 89 countries.
Surprisingly, and rather disappointingly, only 29 exhibitors were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a grouping founded 50 years ago by Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Today there are 10 ASEAN countries, with a combined population of 600 million of which 40% are under 25 years old. Collectively, ASEAN represents the world’s third largest economy.
ASEAN publishers buy a lot of translation rights but sell very few to Western publishers, a fact that has each country’s publishers association (PA) trying to figure out a solution. Each has a national book fair that it has been trying hard to make into a regional hub that will lure more international publishers.
The ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA), whose two-year presidency is held in turn by each country’s PA, has been operating since 2005, but wants to do more to boost cooperation among its members.
Regional activities along these lines have been plentiful in the past five years. In 2013 Bangkok was designated as the UNESCO World Book Capital, and in early 2015 the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) hosted the 30th IPA Congress the same year that Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) was the guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair. The Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) also partnered with Frankfurt Book Fair to organize conferences in 2015 and 2016. Malaysia’s Kota Buku – Book City, a government-funded agency, has been very active in promoting business and networking among ASEAN publishers.
To my mind, this flurry of activity means that the ASEAN publishing community is ready for strengthened intraregional collaboration, international partnerships and visibility on the world stage.
What comes next is the new International Children’s Content Rights Fair (ICCRF), a response to the unmet needs of the regional book trade, which is believed to be poised to flourish.
The first ICCRF will be in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s most popular city to visit, on 6–9 December 2017, under the leitmotif of Creativity Beyond the Page. And it’s being organized by some of Thailand’s most experienced publishers and the country’s premier venue management company.
We held a promotional ICCRF reception at the Beijing International Book Fair, which was great fun and drew a good turnout.
Besides the main fair, activities will include two art-related initiatives: the 2017 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, curated by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair/BolognaFiere; and the ASEAN Illustration Award, which is open to all illustrators of ASEAN nationalities, no matter where in the world they live.
The top prize is US$5,000. As one of the organizers, my hope is that these two activities will both inspire the region’s illustrators and promote their works on the international market. On the technology side, a ‘Maker Party’, organized by Thailand’s largest maker community, the Chiang Mai Maker Club, will bring together students, instructors, entrepreneurs and professionals interested in fusing engineering, art, design, and technology to create innovative products and media.
ICCRF will be the first book-related event to integrate an art exhibition with technology and innovation. And it will be Thailand’s first marketplace for buying and selling creative content rights for print media and technology. The event will promote a network of collaboration between entrepreneurs in print media and technology for the children’s and young-adult book industry, copyright owners, authors and illustrators in the ASEAN region and the rest of the world. It will be a ‘creative marketplace’ that can open doors to Thai and international publishers alike.
We’re very grateful to our ASEAN publisher friends who have given us their unfailing support in making the ICCRF a reality, and we look forward to welcoming you in Chiang Mai in December.