Writer : Editor Team
“Thais only read eight lines a year” is a famous saying to illustrate the reading culture in Thailand. But if you happen to join some of the Book Expos held 5-6 times a year, you will see that the saying is not quite true.
Still, although the participants’ numbers are increasing every year, the printing and book industries are still going downhill. There are so many bookstores closed down that some insiders in the printing industry say that these book expos have actually changed the consumers behaviors by lure them with more discounts, so people have stopping buying books from bookstores. As a result, bookstores cannot survive, while the publishing houses have troubles dealing with distributing companies that have become monopolies.
Seeing that reading is essential, Creative Thailand talks to Piyawit “Tong” Tepamnuaysakul, editor of Sommadhi Books, about the situation in the publishing industry.
Is it necessary for publishing houses to be part of the book expos?
Definitely. It is the easiest way for publishing houses to get instant cash. Normally, once the books are launched, the books will be sent to distributors, and the distritributos will deliver them to bookstores. Right now there are not so many distributors available. There is Kledthai which is the go-to choice for small publishing houses, and there are Nai In and SE-ED which also have bookstores. Of course, having their own bookstores is a big advantage, because they can control the whole cycle. With the normal distribution process, the circulation and sales have to be summarized so that the real income returns to the publishing houses.
What about the costs you need to carry?
When a books are delivered, distributors will deduct 40% of the distribution prices. Five or six years ago, SE-ED and Nai In asked for one more percent on this. The question was from who? If we didn’t distribute with SE-ED or Nai In but with Kled Thai. That one percent had to be for Kled Thai. But did it mean they will deduct 41% instead of 40%? The more important thing was they didn’t deduct from the actual income, but from the distribution prices. It didn’t matter how much we can sell, we needed to pay them anyway.
At the end, the publishing houses had to carry the costs, at least for the transportation costs. In the past, no one would let it. Five years ago, I was the one who objected that, because it was to monopolised and it was not fair for the publishing houses. But for now looking back, I think it made sense in a way because it is business. They just need to compromise.
How do you see the future of independent publishing houses?
Firstly, we have to define it right. Independent publishing houses are not small-scale publishing houses. Small publishing houses can survive if they focus on quantity. Many independent publishing houses focus on niche contents, like translated literature, poetry or academic works. How they are going to survive, this is the real question. The answer is quality. For example, Butterfly Book Publishing House only focuses on alternative literature, and it is not a small publishing house. They have more than 200 titles. Quality matters, and we should support that.
How can we support the reading culture in Thailand?
I strongly believe that if we want to encourage Thais to read more, we have to have more quality bookstores. The giants like SE-ED or Nai In have to provide more variety and the bookstores have to be easy to navigate. The staff have to be informative, at least they have to know the books and can recommend customers. If they can raise their standards, you will see the change after three or four months.
Moreover, other independent publishing houses and bookstores have to learn to work together. Right now each one does their business independently. If we don’t change, it won’t make it. Publishing books without any supporting bookstores leads to nowhere, and online bookstores might only work in big cities. You cannot survive just by selling books online.
Can you elaborate on this adapt-to-survive strategy?
Actually all you need is small changes, like train the staff to know more about what they sell, starting from the categories and their contents. Big bookstores can invite editors to do some workshops on this, I think every editor is happy to do it. If we have efficient staff, everyone will respect each other, and surely things will be better.