In this year's Hong Kong Book Fair (July 15-21), various renowned publishers gathered at the International Publishing Forum to discuss the publishing, distribution and marketing of digital books in Asia.
Fei-Peng Ho is the CEO of Taiwan's Cite Publishing Group, CEO of PC Home Publications Group, President of Pixnet website and President of Taiwan Digital Publishing Forum. He thinks mainstream readers in Asia still prefer print books because they are "digital migrants", the generation who witnessed the evolution of the Internet from zero to its present world domination but whose reading experience began and is still based on paper. In comparison, those who were born and raised in the 21st century are "digital natives" and destined to dominate the reading population with their familiarity with digital products. Digital books are likely to gain 50 percent of Asia's book market share by 2030.
Ho further asserts this is the age in which "everybody can be an author". Using Taiwan's Pixnet website as an example, on which approximately 400,000 blog posts are published everyday, he illustrates how blogging and popular social media platforms such as Facebook have helped numerous authors launch their writing careers. Traditional publishers should take advantage of this and learn to mobilise their readers online by means such as advertising, reader subscription and content promotion. They can also integrate online authors into their publishing circles and promote popular content in print.
Ho reveals the Chinese digital book market at present is still a "virgin land" for local and international publishers. The market share of digital books is still small, so that publishers and authors are constantly concerned about production costs and ROI (return on investment). This will change, however, as Asia becomes increasingly globalised, multimedia-oriented and driven by individual talents, values and needs. Original and diverse content will become a crucial asset.
Suk Lee is the international Sales and Marketing Director of U.S.-based Perseus Books Group. In her view, book marketers today can no longer rely on traditional methods such as book reviews and print media coverage. Instead, authors and publishers should shift their focus to interactivity, using multimedia channels such as ARG (alternate reality game, e.g. Cathy's Book: If Found Call ) and YouTube (e.g. The Pointless Book ) to engage with active online fans.
Lee agrees with Ho that publishers are increasingly challenged by competing media such as mobile phones, mobile reading devices and the Internet. Whether readers like print or digital books is no longer an issue. Instead, the question is whether they still enjoy reading.
In short, the Chinese translation of the concept "crisis" -- weiji -- is a combination of "danger' and "opportunity". While Asia is still catching up with the West in terms of digital publishing and reading, publishers are no longer afraid of being "swamped" by the digital wave. Instead, they are adapting to new publishing technologies, marketing channels, promotional tools and author talents, and are ready to transform themselves to bridges reaching across digital, cultural and linguistic gaps. This is an exciting emerging market that welcomes participation by international publishers and authors.
Image thanks to: Hong Kong Book Fair.