Posted on 2014-Apr-18
To round out the 12th Bangkok International Book Fair, Day 4 visit of the event allowed me to catch a glimpse in how publishers gear toward audience-centric focus based on their specific genres based on the availability of tools they have. The morning discussion cohosted by Nanmeebooks and PUBAT, introduced the talk by children’s book author, Eva Susso, and a professional illustrator, Anna Höglund, who talked about their career and daunting inspiration how they communicate with their young audience through vivid pictures and certain adult subjects. In the afternoon session, one of the publishers of academic textbooks and language guidebooks turned itself into a virtual publisher that allows curious authors to self-publish with some promising enhancements.
Children’s Literature and Beyond
The seminar titled “Modern Swedish Children’s Books – Writer and Illustrator Working Together” amplifies the success of children’s books in Sweden where one in ten books that has been translated in Sweden is a children’s book according to H.E. Mr. Klas Molin, Swedish Ambassador to Thailand.
Following the ambassador’s introduction, Anna Höglund shared the children’s book market in Sweden where more than half of 1,700 titles were published last year. Apart from working extensively with several best-selling authors including Ulf Stark, Barbro Lindgren, and Eva Susso, she has published her own series and written scripts for TV. She has won distinguished awards both in her native country and internationally. As an illustrator, she thinks it is important that women have the right to think by themselves and consider it to be a fundamental basis for democracy and psychology. In her works, psychology plays a major role in determining how she can communicate with a young audience. In her opinion, children’s personality is complex just like an adult. Through the oral tradition of fairy tales, you will be surprised by how children can understand complicated topics (e.g. darkness, the feel of togetherness, moon, and light). For a storyteller to tell these stories, she needs to tune to the mind of a three year old to make children understand the story and at the same time entertain the parents whose obligation is to read aloud to their children. For instance, they can read aloud the story and explain why the moon is sad and meaningless and how the journey about dark feelings and getting deep inside come the topical theme for children to explore. In fact, her illustration is not limited to attracting the young readers; psychologists also use one of her books to teach women about separation through the depiction of a female bear that is going through psychodrama when her husband leaves her for work. Other publication also includes her works for teen that covers more mature topics e.g. violence, depression, or even modern fairy tale.
Born in the rural district of Borås, Eva Susso’s nature-loving childhood together with the support of her family gave her permission to explore the surrounding all led her to culminate the love in reading. Marrying a Gambian man tended to change her life when her family life brought her a daughter who inspired her to discover her voice through writing. She currently promoted her first book that has been translated to Thai and sold by Nanmeebooks. Writing a children’s book requires that one respects the child and know what it is like to be one. However, the challenges remain that reading is competing against the digital world. Children’s book authors must be mindful of this significant obstacle and place their stories in a modern world for the children to pick up the message. While her children’s book discusses the theme of an elder sister taking her baby brother into the forest to discover wild beasts, her YA novel, Två Städer (2 Cities), presents darker elements such as catastrophe and dystopia and provides the moral lesson for readers to learn that looking after other people (the dog in the story) is the key to survive from despair.
She writes stories that can be connected with her own life rather than relying on the fairy tale alone. Apart from the children’s book, she also wrote Rita which refers to her own daughter who was born of a South African father. Anna collaborated with Eva on this project to illustrate the story; in order to depict the story about Rita, Anna traveled to Gambia to get the direct experience. Eva wants to present the theme of racial diversity instead of the typical blond stereotype that most children have grown attached to. In her opinion, picture books do not always have to have texts in order for children to read pictures.
Self-Publisher to Dream Big with Rich Media Content and PDF+
In the afternoon session, I moved to another smaller room where academic textbook publisher, Technology Promotion Association (Thailand-Japan) or “TPA” held a seminar to introduce how technology can transform self-publishing to the next level. For the first time in history, there is a discussion for Thai authors to self-publish their works in digital formats.
Working together with 80 Root, a technological provider of eBook solution, TPABookshelf application is available on iOS and Android. According to the moderator’s introduction, TPA has published more than 400 book titles and gradually transitioned itself from paper to digital. Although it took 8 months for the publisher to develop an eBook solution, the publisher foresaw a necessity in doing so when the reading culture keeps changing. To highlight the many advantages of digital boos, cheaper production cost and transferability are two main factors that the publisher has to adapt their business perspective to facilitate the changing reading landscape. Cheaper production cost can encourage the publisher’s risk to invest in aspiring authors as they can test the waters to market and measure the purchasing demand. By distributing eBooks, the publisher can also make an informed decision whether it is worth investing in the print version. However, since TPA does not have their own technology, they outsource the eBook solution 80 Root which uses Aquafadas, a digital publishing system developed in France, to produce enhanced eBook or “rich media content” or the hybrid eBook that readers can switch between reflow/non-reflow mode.
High Quality Paper or Content?
According to Pana Janwiroj, President of International Business Affairs at Nation Multimedia Group, the print market faces a tough challenge, especially for newspapers. He said that the percentage of Thais reading newspapers is lower than 4% comparing to a staggering 50% in Japan. One of the reasons that prints might be harder to sell in Thailand is the publisher’s ambition to print high quality paper which consequently increases the book’s price. Comparing to the low-priced books in India, he thinks the book price is too high in Thailand. He asked, “If digital helps spread the content, why producing high quality instead of content?” To illustrate further who wants an access to digital reading, he further shared the data that Thais are TV-centric and the age group that reads news the most is between 25-29 years, which represents the positive phenomenon of digital reading.
Online Self-Publishing in Thailand
Dr. Virach Sornlertlamvanich - expert at TPA, principal researcher at NECTEC, founder of LexiTron, and developer of several Thai fonts - talked from the perspective of a content creator as he commented how Thai textbooks needed to learn from Japan. He recalled how the Japanese textbooks were more comprehensive and appealing when he studied in Japan probably due to the fact that they used anime characters to add in the content. In comparison of Wikipedia articles, Thai ones score the lowest (100,000) comparing to the English ones in the US (4 million) and Japanese ones as they are approaching 1 million. Facebook and Dek-D Writers website facilitates Thai self-publishers to publish their content online. Government should also encourage students to write more perhaps through writing a quality thesis.
With Technology Come New Possibilities and Challenges
Attapon Chaianun, Managing Director of 80 Root, agreed with Pana’s analysis of print book price that is relatively higher than it should be. “Books are more expensive than a meal,” he said. Since most of the content creators are foreigners, there is an untapped market for Thai creators to produce eBooks in local language provided that digital content changes the way we consume text. To illustrate how the technology can enhance the content, he played a video on the screen that showed how an expert talks about different boxing styles. His goal is to embed 7 languages into an eBook which required a lot of programmers’ contribution 3 years ago.
One of the reasons that the eBook phenomenon has not taken off in Thailand is that most of the eBooks in PDF format are static and thus discouraging readers to download them. Embedding the multimedia content is like adding feelings inside the book that is not limited to only fiction, but it can also enhance textbooks or a boxing book.
Attapon called this enhanced eBook PDF+ and Rich Multimedia Content (RMC). These formats have been extensively used to publish digital magazines on Apple’s AppStore. With PDF+ eBooks, content creators can embed video clips, ToC, link to their website and social media to make sure readers will be directed to the most updated source of information and promotion. However, producing PDF eBooks can come with a higher cost of production among traditional publishers and the reason could be they do not want eBook to compete with their own print books.
High Competition in Free eBooks
Last but not least, before the seminar ended, Pana shared an interesting insight how digital book may continue to level with print. While digital solutions might lessen the production cost, there is still a market for print books. For Nation’s print business, the print sales are still going well probably because people have not spent much money for the last several months during the protests in Bangkok. High competition in free eBooks availability is another issue that can limit its discoverability. However, print books distributed in the physical bookstore can face less competition since they only compete with priced products and so their value does not tend to decrease. In answer to one of the participants’ questions whether readers will appreciate digital content, he said anybody can conveniently self-publish yet the content needs editorial assistance.
Bloated eBook File Size
My personal experience testing the interactive book that I downloaded from TPABookshelf app on my Android smartphone gave mixed feelings. Although it remains true that the book is not a static or one-dimensional document, the file size of most interactive and non-interactive seemed to be a major problem varying from 8.93 MB to 193.01 MB! In case you thought you were mistaken about the number, you read that right. The interactive quality is to be blamed for its giga size that can render your tiny space on eReading devices filling up quickly, especially if you have installed a lot of apps and stored eBooks in other directories. So far, the bookshelf catalog is pretty limited when most of the eBooks available are related to quality management and innovation with the exception of two classical tales of Sunthorn Phu’ Phra Aphai Mani and The Rabbit and the Turtle (The Tortoise and the Hare) from Aesop’s Fables.
To fully test the eReading app, I downloaded a PDF eBook and explored its function. Apart from being able to select texts, draw my annotation, and print a page to my Gmail, the reflow mode intrigued me the most as it reminded me of Google Play Books app that I can switch between the PDF/EPUB look.
Sadly, the reflowable still needs some work as the text did not automatically fit the entire screen and certain vowels cannot be displayed correctly. Worse than that, when I zoomed in, the reflowable texts cannot be scrolled vertically. For those who wish to learn Thai language from this interactive eBook, not only the app is only available in Thai, but all the eBooks are as well.
Book Fair Makes an Impact
To recapitulate what the previous articles have shown, it might be safe to say that Thailand has seen a lot of progress in instilling the willpower into casual and dedicated readers to read at this stage. The progress can be seen through the impact that the book fair has made and how local and international authors and publishers have joined forces to formulate such a development. The day 4 visit to the book fair again allowed me to catch a glimpse of how Thai publishers and content developers are willing to appeal readers and self-publishers. In the morning session, children’s book author and illustrator-Eva Susso and Anna Höglund, made their book launch special with the backstory how the pictures and stories are woven together. With the first Thai translation of the Swedish book, it might be possible to see future foreign works being translated to provide Thai children with vivid fantasy and imagination. The afternoon session promises an interesting approach to bridge the gap between technology and content delivery. Although the interactive elements in eBook are not groundbreaking, the focus for local creators or author should be focused on producing the type of eReading material that resonates with readers. At the same time, the challenges remain that the developer takes reader’s limitations into consideration especially if their target audience is smart devices owners who should be concerned about the storage space of the so-called rich media content.
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