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How Thai Publishing Industry Can Handle All Challenges


Posted on 2013-Mar-22

by Panich Choonhanirunrit (Google+)

From the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand

Being designated World Book Capital 2013 by representatives from UNESCO, the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), the International Booksellers Federation (IBF), and the International Publishers Associations (IPA), Bangkok has every reason to celebrate its own path to cultivating reading as lifelong education. Perhaps, 41st National Book Fair and 11th Bangkok International Book Fair 2013 are the best answer from the government and all parties involved to signal the country’s readiness to promote reading and embrace books from all over the world. Referring to the detailed analyses from The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) in Thai here [PDF] and here [PDF] and a brief translation in English, Thai publishing industry has undergone many ups and downs due to several negative factors such as natural disasters, economic recession, book market dominance, etc.

2010-2011: The Year of Obstacles

Obstacle

Based on PUBAT’s detailed analysis of Thai publishing industry in 2010, economic recovery helped secure 11.57% growth (up 2.2% from 2009). Several positive factors help drive the overall industry to achieve market value at 21,400 million Thai Baht (US$713 million). However, when it all boiled down to publishers, the market was heavily dominated by the so-called “leading” publishers and large publishers. Their market share was an astounding 65.53% despite the fact that there were only 34 of them out of 500 publishers. Small publishers’ market share was incomparably modest at 13.49%. A lot of small publishers chose to cease their operations due to the arrival of new investors rendering several small publishers irrelevant and being unable to maintain market liquidity.

The significant growth can be translated as ominous gloom for small publishers when the raw costs increased but there were risk factors to hamper the overall growth. The operational costs include book distribution, management, and marketing budget. In order to promote and sell their physical products, they needed to fight for the shelf space in the bookstore. Not only did the costs hamper the growth of the industry, but the damage to printing presses-according to PUBAT-caused by a disastrous flood also cost 500 million Baht (US$17 million). The distributional supply chain was severely affected by this particular natural disaster.

To look at the Thai publishing industry without mentioning print books is an understatement. However, PUBAT also studied the eBook business model and saw great potential in the new technology. In their perspective, eBooks are a vehicle for readers to conveniently access books. The association urged the Thai publishing industry to make use of eBook technology in reading. According to the survey done in 15th BookExpo Thailand 2010, only 3% of the respondents (40 attendees out of 1,316) showed that they enjoyed reading eBooks. The survey additionally showed that 81.4% of them did not own eReading devices. eBooks can be the marketing tool for publishers to attract new readers, especially for those who are interested in new technology or lifestyle (my italics). Apart from eBooks, digital magazines flourish on mobile application and the number of downloads are rapidly gaining traction and approval from subscribers. OOKBEE’s success story sets such a record.

2011-2012: Risk Factors

Tightrope

The wind changed its direction to benefit the large publishers as their market share rose from 25.45% in 2010 to 34.54% in 2011. Small publishers still did not have any success as their income plummeted 17.73%.

However, when it comes to profit calculation, small and medium publishers managed to earn higher profit. Why? They could adapt themselves to rising operational costs very well unlike the giants that needed to spend more money on logistics. After living through the horrendous flood’s aftermath, it was evident that Thai consumers wanted to read and 1.7 million visitors had gone to the 40th Thailand Book Fair (Thai website). Book sales reached 400 million baht (US$ 13 million).

In the first quarter of 2012, the First-Time Car Buyer policy affected the spending budget of general households and sucked money into the automotive industry. Petrol and car loans added to daily expenses for Thailand’s middle class. Expenses related to the policy were expected to reduce 50% of the consumer’s average income of 15,000 Baht/month per household. Taken the soaring operational costs caused by the previously mentioned factors combined with the 300 baht Minimum Wage Policy in April into consideration, it seemed that print books were in a difficult situation.

2012-2013: Embracing the Changes

Hourglass

Between 2012 and 2013, more than 60 small publishers have gone out of business. However, PUBAT suggest the publishers that they establish their unique identity. Redundant content in certain types of fiction (i.e. supernatural) will not work. Publishers must learn to adapt to a new market’s demands. Popular genres in the market will be young adult fiction, adult fiction, and fantasy. Lite novel, inspirational guidebooks, and how-to manuals about investment or infotainment can be the real deal for interested readers.

eBook sales in Thailand cannot catch up with the massive purchase of its print siblings. Less than 0.01% of eBooks were sold last year. Although eBooks are not expected to replace print books in the next five years, it can serve as special media content that will enhance reading experience. Thailand is currently in a transitional period where publishers, distributors, bookstores (B2S, Asia Books), and mobile operators are launching new products and testing technologies.

The fact that Bangkok is chosen to be the World Book Capital and International Publishers Association Congress venue in 2014 seems to stimulate the publishers, distributors, bookstores, government budget allocation to buy books for library, and tax reductions for book donations. For the entry-level market (readers aged 10–12 years), the expansion of bookstores as a chain store and a local shop will expand the reader’s fan base in the future.

Hence, the business in 2013 is forecast to outperform the previous year and the growth rate will be no less than 7% of which can be calculated as 24,200 million Baht in terms of market value. If the publishers can launch a book that attracts young adults, they can significantly boost this market since this group of consumer is considerably a large one to make a purchasing decision. They are devoted to “invest” their time in reading.

The Future of Thai Publishing Industry in Digital World

Electronics

Many people fear that eBooks will destroy the traditional business model—the print book. Based on the current estimation, it is not the real threat in Thailand. If the publishers familiarize themselves with the term “change,” eBooks can be “business for the future” that they will transform themselves into “content provider” to cater to readers’ needs in order to ‘read’ in different formats.

The biggest concern is how to encourage the ‘reader’ to choose reading over the internet, gaming, online content, and the new lifestyle. Based on the reading survey by National Statistical Office, readers aged 6+ years spend 35 minutes/day reading extra-curricular/after-hours books (down from 39 minutes/day in 2008).

The total population of readers aged 6+ years is 19.6 million people. Based on this number alone, publishers can work to their advantage to convert these people to read books. At the same time, they can be an obstacle to build the reading culture. Perhaps, eBooks are not the main reason to eradicate the print book business but other digital media demotivate people to read books. eBooks must redefine itself to be “beyond a book.”

More Critical Opportunity in Prior to Embracing AEC Community

For “book makers,” this can be a great opportunity for them to produce learning materials that meet the needs of students and general audience who wants to learn about ASEAN countries. In the past 3 years, most material concerning Southeast Asia (SEA) have been history books and translated works of Western and SEA academics.

The closer Thailand approaches AEC (ASEAN Economic Community), the more information its people are expected to study. There will be discussions to reveal the neighboring countries’ identity, belief, values, and so on. The question is how can these studies be publicized? Literary works of each country should be translated and broadcast. The establishment of a translation center can promote the publishing trade between ASEAN countries and bind “ASEAN people” closer together.

A Brief Glimpse into the Future

Binoculars

The Thai publishing industry between 2010–2013 has undergone new challenges that affect the publishers, distributors, and bookstores. Based on the traditional business model, print books are seen as the poster child for publishers to keep up with the demand. However, operational costs and disappointing Thailand reading statistics seems to slow down the profit margin when the cost of living spikes partially due to various government policies. New technology and lifestyles seems to lessen reading time, yet there is potential for young adult fiction and popular genres. Although the arrival of eBooks is a little too soon for bookstores to be labeled as a flagship product, PUBAT expresses optimism toward the growth of digital books based on several positive factors with the aid of international organization and neighboring countries’ association. Publishers must embrace changes to become content providers in order to bring the best of technology to familiarize readers in reading. Most importantly, Thai readers should not view reading as an obligation to learn and this year’s book fair in Bangkok will open the new chapter of reading society to and pave ways to the education of AEC’s cultural diversity.

Label: eBook Industry News

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