ASEAN turns 50!


-Towards more business collaboration within ASEAN and ASIA, points out Claudia Kaiser, vice president – business development, Frankfurter Buchemesse. 50 years is a long time, and of course societies, challenges and also the publishing markets in ASEAN and ASIA have picked up, changed and have grown quite a bit.

The challenges…

Claudia Kaiser, vice president – business development, Frankfurter BuchemesseAs in the West, challenges continue to exist and to grow. Some of the challenges in the markets include: distribution of publishing products, piracy, and of course the growing competition with other leisure time activities have grown tremendously. Just this past week, Frankfurt Book Fair organized a workshop for publishers in Vietnam and in the Philippines, and one of the major challenges discussed was, of course, the fact that the younger generation has such a huge choice in how they can spend their spare time – watching movies online, chatting with friends (most important activity!!!) – do they also read online? Yes, a bit, but even though the markets in most of the ASEAN countries seem to be prone for ebooks and reading online, ebooks are still not the common thing and revenues of ebooks reach not even 2% of the total revenues in most markets. Piracy is a big threat, but another hindrance is that many, especially young people, are not prepared to spend on content when they can find so much information online for free.

Selling content: the biggest challenge

Indonesia was the first South East Asian country to be the Guest of Honour at Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015, and the group of people who worked on Indonesia’s presentation, the translation funding programme and the writers exchange, are – thank God – still around and want to keep raising the bar for Indonesia, with funding from the government. However that’s not easy, as Laura Prinsloo, the head of Indonesia’s National Book Committee pointed out in Publishing Perspectives recently. It is hard to sell Indonesian content to other countries, especially to the West – and if the government would not continue to fund these activities, publishers would probably resort to their big national markets and would rather turn towards cooperation within Asia. Without any doubt, selling content to the West is a huge challenge. In Europe, we look towards the English speaking markets when we buy content, our own language markets and to our neighbours, and most market players would not consider buying content from markets that are neither in fashion nor well known. And yes, many countries run translation funding programmes to make content from smaller markets more attractive to translate. Germany has Litprom, an organisation that supports literary translations from Asia, Africa and Latin America, into the German speaking market, and of course funds are available for films, game development with content from different sources. And platforms like IPR License and Pubmatch – platforms for rights trading – offer new opportunities as well. However, with all these different channels, one thing becomes ever more important: sticking out and creating visibility. Publishing markets in Asia have yet to explore these avenues. And if it is so hard to create visibility in the West, Asia should first establish partnerships and visibility within the continent. Some years ago, when I started working in South East Asia, a publisher told me that the first thing needed is a reference centre for content from South East Asia, as there is hardly any exchange. Unlike the Arab World – which faces no less challenges – South East Asia is a very diverse region with a world of different and often difficult languages and not many translators, who would be capable of translating Thai or Vietnamese into Malay or Tamil . Vietnam’s market, for instance, is dominated by translations (up to 80 % are translations – mostly from English). It goes without saying that there is a good amount of rights trade between Indonesia and Malaysia due to the similar language. Exchange with China is growing, too. But so far, it is no big scale business (not a lot of numbers available).

The silver lining…

However, things are happening: The ASEAN publishers association is working to foster more exchange, book fairs and literary festivals celebrate authors from ASEAN and Asia (in some countries this is a group that needs to further develop) , and partners like Frankfurt and London Book Fairs do their shares to draw more attention and interest to these markets. Frankfurt Book Fair recently organized a tour through German publishing houses for Children and YA editors /publishers from South East Asia – demand on both sides was huge. The Business Club programme at FBF has a lot of South East Asian elements. We even looked into setting up an ASEAN Forum at FBF, but that now has to wait until next year. Story Drive Asia in Singapore is the next big thing to look out for collaborations: and it is about more than publishing: film, games, scripts – a lot to discover, especially from the rich cultures of South East Asia, not just Bali. And here we are also working on new ways to present and market content: the digital age is presenting so many opportunities, and with the creative minds in the region, I’m sure we will be seeing surprises in the years to come.

Claudia Kaiser was trained as bookseller, and then proceeded to graduate with a MA degree in Chinese Studies. She lived in China for more than 10 years, as editor for China Foreign Literature Publishing House, started an agency and, in 1998, set up the German Book Information Centre by Frankfurt Book Fair in Beijing, and was its first director.

She moved on to United Nations Publishing in New York (External Publications Officer, in charge of rights and sales).She has been in the senior management (vice president) of Frankfurt Book Fair since 2003, in different positions: head of international department, general manager of KITAB (Abu Dhabi International Book Fair), head of Cape Town Book Fair, just to mention a few. As vice president Business Development of Frankfurt Book Fair, she presently looks into the South East Asian markets and South Asia, and was the main driver in building the platform StoryDrive Asia in Singapore.

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