I was interviewed for this Hong Kong Trader article about Asian publishers in advance of the Hong Kong Book Fair.
Many small publishers use print-on-demand technology to make books available in small quantities, but I’m not keen on it because sales are rarely very high, and such books are only sold through the giant online booksellers, not in bookshops on the street.
For other publishers working within a niche genre and producing small runs, shipping and distribution can be costly. Adopting a print-on-demand model, meanwhile, limits distribution to big online booksellers, according to Pete Spurrier of Hong Kong-based Blacksmith Books, who says distributors want to work with publishers using standard offset print runs. “The economics also don’t work because there is no economy of scale: each book costs a relatively high amount to print,” Mr Spurrier says.
Subject matter also plays a part. Blacksmith Books deals in Asian non-fiction which, he says, outsells fiction and poetry enough that he can afford to ship at least a pallet’s worth to distributors in the UK and US. “When you are shipping this amount, the cost of transport per book really isn’t that high, so the economics work,” he says. He’s focused on getting his books into smaller and independent bookstores to support those businesses.
The point I try to make in the interview is that if you publish books that people want to read, the traditional model of publishing (printing reasonably large runs and shipping them to distributors around the world) still works. A healthy home market helps too, and we certainly have this in Hong Kong. Of course we are also making many of our books available as e-books, but the world would be a poorer place if we didn’t have bookshops.