SPEECH ON THE FORUM OF THE CHINA-ASEAN PUBLISHING EXPO 2013
(September 4, 2013, Nanning, Guanxi, China)
Atty. Dominador D. Buhain
Vice- President, ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA)
Immediate Past and Chief Honorary President, Asia Pacific Publishers Association (APPA)
President Emeritus, Philippine Educational Publishers Association (PEPA)
Publishing in the ASEAN Region: Developments, Challenges, and Prospects
Globally, publishers acknowledge that the onset of the digital age in publishing has revolutionized the industry. With e-books accounting for around 9% of the almost US$102 Billion revenues in 2012 – and expected to grow to 22% of the projected US$ 104 Billion total revenues by 2017 – experts forecast that while the growth of printed books is at best flat in most markets, the rise in revenues from e-books will more than compensate. And while North America is forecasted to have the biggest share of e-book sales, it is estimated that 15% of all book sales in Asia Pacific will come from digital by 2017.
As the digital revolution continues to gather serious traction in developed markets such as the US and Europe, it’s the best time for publishers in the ASEAN region to become more familiar with the latest developments in digital publishing that are happening in neighboring countries.
In the first-ever ASEAN e-Book Conference, held last December 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the current state of the digital publishing industry in ASEAN member countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, was discussed. Although the ASEAN e-book market is very much still in its infancy stage, there are, even at this early point, already several first-movers who appear to dominate the market. Some significant facts and figures presented during the ASEAN e-Book Conference are:
- Thailand’s e-book market is estimated at US$ 6.67 Million, currently less than 1% of its total printed book market. Ookbee, an e-bookstore that’s been in existence for only 2 years, corners 88% of the country’s e-book market with over 6 million ebooks sold, 6,000 titles (all in local language) in their roster, and a customer base of more than 2 million users and counting. The country’s one-tablet-per-child program is expected to have a positive effect on the e-book market in the coming years.
- In Vietnam, 70% of publishers are already selling their e-books and e-textbooks through Alezaa.com. Aleeza has around 50,000 active users and allows its customers to download a single title onto five reading devices.
- In Singapore, retail book sales have declined by 1.1%, with Borders and PageOne stores closing last year. However, Singaporeans spent an estimated US$ 41 Million on e-books bought from overseas websites like Amazon in 2010. As a result, new and aggressive e-bookstores have begun to establish their presence in the growing digital book market. One such entity is ilovebooks.com – owned by MediaCorp, Singapore’s most diverse multimedia company, and possibly the biggest digital publisher in the region thus far.
- In Indonesia, where 22% of its population (or 55 million people) use the Internet and 40 million mobile phones are sold annually, e-commerce is expected to grow three times as much as the country’s economy over the next 5 years. Mizan Digital Publishing, which launched its first free e-book title in 1999, generated 15,000 downloads; in 2008, one of their titles had 60,000 downloads – but while this hints at the potential of digital publishing in Indonesia, there are attendant issues and challenges that come with the opportunities.
- At the end of 2012, 40 Malaysian publishers have entered the realm of digital publishing, most notably PTS Publications & Distributors and Pelangi ePublishing. Three major e-bookstores – Xentral Methods (e-Sentral.com), MPH Digital (mphdigital.my) and Maxis (ebuuk.com.my) – have started to offer e-books, mostly in the local language, last year. In Malaysia, higher learning institutions comprise the biggest sector of e-book users, supported by global providers such as OverDrive, ebrary, World Book Library, and Credo Reference.
- In the Philippines, there are very clear indications that digital publishing is on the rise. Major national newspapers, top magazine titles, and some locally authored fiction and reference books are available in digital format, either through online portals or via e-bookstores. On the educational front, the country’s foremost textbook publishers, such as Rex Book Store, as well as Vibal, Diwa, and Anvil, have started to offer digital textbooks to academic institutions, in addition to online learning and educational resource material platforms.
The article of JC Punongbayan as posted on August 22, 2013 at I- Speak about the effects of digitization reveals that newspapers are also hit by the rise of internet news.
This article of JC Punongbayan even mentioned that the owners of The Philippine Star (one of the leading newspapers in the country) are planning to sell as much as 80% of the company’s stakes to PLDT (a telecommunication company).
In the words of Philippine Star president and CEO Miguel Belmonte, “Partnering with a tech company like PLDT will extend the life span of our paper. Our expertise is on publishing — as we know it, the hard copy. Since the digital age is upon us, we feel that their capability in that area is far superior than what we’re capable of doing. They will be a strategic partner to have.”
Still in the Philippines, digital publishing – much less e-comic book publishing – is still in its infancy. However, one Filipino company is anticipating growth in this area and is hoping that more artists would consider promoting their work through digital means.
FlipSide Digital Content, a company based in Libis, Quezon City, Philippines is expecting more Filipinos to read comics on a digital format, including iPads and Android tablet PCs.
The company has already published a number of e-comics through Apple’s iTunes, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble. In fact, the company has been generating huge revenues on e-comic publishing alongside its e-book publishing business.
With the impending boom of digital publishing in the region, there are also several local providers who have entered the market by offering technical expertise and support in producing digital publications, in addition to online e-bookstore services. Such entities include Flipside (www.flipsidecontent.com), Papataka (www.papataka.com) in Indonesia, E-Books (www.eBooksinThailand.com) in Thailand, and E-Central (www.e-sentral.com) in Malaysia.
In Korea, the latest Korean-made messaging app KakaoTalk which has over 70 million users and a social gaming platform running in a couple of countries has launched Kakao Page as a media and content publishing platform for companies to distribute content. But KakaoTalk’s new feature is more than that, and seems to be very much aimed at specific publishing and monetization. It’s aimed at content creators, and the published material will be paid for. As such, it will be more of a challenge to magazine subscriptions in Apple’s NewsStand.
However, as publishers around the region gear up to expand their digital footprint and ride the growing wave of the ASEAN e-book market, there exist realities and challenges that they have to contend with.
While the increasing popularity and sales of tablets and smartphones will surely drive e-book usage in the ASEAN countries, one of the biggest challenges facing the e-book publishing industry in the region is the consumers’ demand for less expensive digital books. Malaysia’s e-bookstores, for instance, price e-books at 20% to 30% cheaper than the print version; the same situation exists in Vietnam, where low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and disposable income drive e-book prices to 30% lower than printed book prices.
Piracy is also a concern that is foremost in publishers’ minds. In fact, the problem has apparently become alarming in Vietnam that a number of digital publishers have turned to the government, asking for legislation that would protect them and the digital publishing industry’s viability.
The need for stable and reliable distribution of e-books is also key to success. The growing demand for convenience and variety among e-books users will drive publishers to seek partnerships with digital publishing solutions providers, tablet and smartphone vendors, and even content providers in Western markets.
The evolving standards for e-book formats, print-to-digital conversion requirements, and compatibility of e-books with available reading devices are technology-related issues that also affect the digital publishing industry in the region. While the upward sales trend of e-books in most ASEAN countries indicate that readers have increasingly accepted the digital books, publishers need to be able to offer content in as many formats as possible, so that more readers will be able to access their desired content. Outsourcing conversion requirements to the experts is also an option that publishers can consider, as this allows them faster turnaround time in offering digital versions of their printed books.
Affordability, in addition to availability, of e-reading devices will be crucial in progressing the digital movement.
In the Publishing Forum on August 27, 2013 in Beijing, China, the following were reported:
- That it seems that it is only in the US that e-books has the popular acceptance;
- That according to Mr. Cyrus Kheradi, Senior Vice President of Penguin Random House, although during preceding years e-books has continued to rise it has remained stagnant during 2012;
- That Mr. Ronald Blunden, Senior Vice President for Corporate Communication of Hachette Livre mentioned that only three percent ( 3%) of its publications are e-books;
- That Mr. Gong Shuguang, President of China South Publishing & Media Group Co.2, Ltd., also made a pronouncement that e-book has not yet been well accepted;
- That Mr. Xavier Mallafre Crunas, Managing Director of Publishing Innovation Projects of Planeta Group, made a pronouncement that e-books comprises only three percent (3%) of the entire published materials.
In the August 14, 2013 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the Philippines, e-book organization itself is suggesting for government to focus on the purchase of printed textbooks instead of e-books.
For the past decade efforts have been made to implement the Massachussettes Institute of Technology Media Lab of the founding Chairman Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child Project(OLPC) for Developing Countries.
The 2012 study by the Inter-American Development Bank on the outcome of the OLPC, however, disclosed that in Peru the students who joined the project showed no measurable improvement in their test scores.
During the July 12, 2013 Asian Publishing Convention in Mandarin Oriental, Manila on the debate entitled ”Whether or Not Digital Publishing would Cause the Death of Traditional Publishing?” the audience was given a chance to vote after the presentations of the pro and contra and the near unanimous vote of the audience was that the traditional publishers are here to stay.
Although e-book sales are not expected to override print sales in the foreseeable future, ASEAN publishers can nevertheless expect growth as the industry moves from infancy to full development.
www.asianpublishing.net, Developments in Digital Publishing in ASEAN, by Peter Duke
www.aptaracorp.com, Aptara Editorial, Electronic Publishing in Southeast Asia
www.publishersweekly.com, Tracking the Digital Movement at the ASEAN eBook Conference, by Teri Tan
www.the-digital-reader.com, eBooks Are Surging in Southeast Asia, by Nate Hoffelder
www.biztechreport.com, The State of Local Asian Publishers in the Digital Age, by Anuradha Shukla
bbebooksthailand.com, eBooks in the ASEAN Market, by Gof
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