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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Coming soon to e-readers: local books

Singapore Book Publishers' Association moves to take popular local titles digital.
The Business Times - October 9, 2012
By: Amit Roy Choudhury
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Coming soon to e-readers: local books According to the PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2011-2015, the overall electronic consumer book market in Asia Pacific is expected to increase from US$875 million in 2010 to US$2 billion in 2015, a 17.5 per cent compound annual increase -PHOT

SO you've got your newfangled tablet with a great e-book reader built-in and yet you can't find some local stuff to read on it, like perhaps your favourite Singapore Ghost Stories?

Don't fret, help's on the way. The Singapore Book Publishers' Association (SBPA) is taking steps to ensure that popular local titles are widely available in digitised formats to cater to the proliferation of e-book readers in Singapore.

SBPA has launched a content digitisation project under which 10,000 Singapore-published titles are expected to be digitised over the next three years. This initiative is supported by the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA).

The project, which is divided into three phases, will see 2,000 titles digitised by March 2013. Each participating publisher will receive a maximum of $3,000 in subsidy for this project.

Speaking to BT, SBPA's president, Triena Ong, notes that earlier this year, a pilot project was introduced to allow the association to evaluate and short-list service providers for the programme, establish requirements for the service providers and establish market-readiness for the various e-books formats.

SBPA has taken a decision to use the International Digital Publishing Forum's (DIPS) popular open e-book standard, EPUB (short for electronic publication) for digitisation.

According to Ms Ong, only books which fit into the mass market genre would be eligible for the digitising grant. "In essence this means that no textbooks, assessment books, catalogues, works of literature and coffee table books would be considered." SBPA will assess all the submitted titles.

Additionally, the books must be published locally by a publishing house which has registered offices here. Books by foreign authors, whose books are published here, would also be eligible.

According to the PwC Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2011-2015, the overall electronic consumer book market in Asia Pacific is expected to increase from US$875 million in 2010 to US$2 billion in 2015, a 17.5 per cent compound annual increase.

A survey by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) on the distribution of primary Internet activities by residents in 2010 also showed that two per cent of the residents used the Internet for reading electronic books. Coupled with the high mobile phone penetration in Singapore as well as an increase in the choices of e-platforms such as ilovebook.com and Amazon's Kindle, the e-book industry is set to grow.

Once the books are digitised the publishers have several different avenues for selling their books online. "One option is to sell directly to customers via their websites. Another way is to ask the company which is digitising the books to - for a small fee - put the titles on popular online book stores like Amazon. Finally the publishers can offer the books directly to these online bookstores," says Ms Ong.

Singapore-based Editions Didier Millet (EDM) Books, which publishes illustrated general and reference books with a strong emphasis on South-east Asia, is one of the companies taking advantage of this scheme.

Talking to BT, Antoine Monod, EDM's sales and marketing director, observes that the traditional publishing industry is struggling worldwide with bookshops either downsizing or closing. In Singapore he gives the example of Borders.

"This initiative helps local publishers to develop a new sales channels as digitised content can be sold both locally and internationally."

The majority of EDM's publications are illustrated books, which are not covered under this scheme. It, however, has a few text-only books and they hope to use the grant to convert these books into the EPUB format.

Mr Monod thinks this initiative can help in the development of local content. "This would encourage more people to write and thus support creativity. And it will help local publishers to keep up with technology. With financial support, more publishers will tend to convert their books into the e-books format and explore new sales channels via websites like Amazon and Kobo."

He, however, adds that since e-books are sold at a much cheaper rate than actual books, a publisher will need to calculate how many e-books are required to be sold to achieve a breakeven.

In many other countries, books are first published in the e-book format and, if they are popular, the physical books are published. Mr Monod thinks that the same can happen in Singapore.

SBPA's Ms Ong observes that many local publishers have already anticipated the rising demand for local digitised content and have taken steps to convert their titles into e-books. "This initiative will help them and others who haven't made the move." The SBPA president adds that she's sanguine that the momentum and awareness created by this initiative will allow the publishers to do it on their own going forward. "We shall not extend or renew the initiative."

EDM's Mr Monod says the MDA has been very supportive of the creative industry. "I hope MDA can continue to support the publishing industry as whole. After the 10,000 books are done, I can only hope for their continued support. We would like to convert illustrated books, as well into the EPUB format."

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