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Hong Kong Book Fair 2015 Proves Cultural Nexus for Global Publishers

Many exhibitors had a number of non-publishing agendas at the HKTDC Book Fair, including Japanese representatives looking to promote tourism and a Latin American delegation seeking to prompt greater overall interest in the region.

Photo: The Hong Kong Book Fair: A million visitors spending HK$900 each.
The Hong Kong Book Fair: A million visitors spending HK$900 each.
Photo: The Hong Kong Book Fair: A million visitors spending HK$900 each.
The Hong Kong Book Fair: A million visitors spending HK$900 each.

The 26th annual Hong Kong Book Fair again saw visitor numbers around the one million mark, with best sellers, new releases and limited edition books all part of the mix of titles on sale during the week-long event. Once again, Japan proved a key focus for the event, with this year's fair featuring the country's biggest ever pavilion. Overall, many Japanese exhibitors seemed intent on using books – specifically manga – as a means of exciting tourism interest among fair goers.

Manji Ensou, a representative of the Kobe-based Hyogo Prefectural Government, said: "It's our first time at the Book Fair and we felt it was important to attend as Hong Kong is very much the centre of Asia and we are keen to promote Hyogo." The principle element in this promotion was the works of Osamu Tezuka, a Hyogo-based manga artist, best known for Astro Boy.

Explain the thinking behind the Prefecture's presence, Ensou said: "Osamu Tezuka's creations are well-known around the world, but through the Book Fair we are able to promote the link between his work and Hyogo. It's a way for us to help attract Hong Kong people."

The Japan pavilion formed part of the Book Fair's international cultural village, which featured 20 exhibitors from 19 countries, including Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Peru who, for the second-straight year, joined forces to create a Latin America Pavilion.

Beatriz Nava Domínguez, Consul of Economic and Cultural Promotion at the Consulate General of Mexico in Hong Kong said: "The Book Fair is an immense event with more than one million visitors. Due to its sheer size, a number of Latin American countries decided to band together to promote our common cultural elements, starting with our language.

"In this way, we hope to have a greater impact on local people. There is no better means for us to promote our language and culture than through our best advocates – our writers and poets."

According to Domínguez, the Latin American pavilion was intended to provide opportunities for Spanish speakers to discover publications from the four countries, while also prompting a wider interest among the Hong Kong public. To the end, the pavilion offered a number of books in Spanish with Cantonese and Mandarin translations.

With 'Reading the World' the theme of this year's event, the Latin American pavilion was keen to emphasise its links with one in particular of the 500 cultural events taking part in and around the Book Fair and Cultural July. The event saw Mercedes Vazquez, a lecturer at Hong Kong University, speaking at the Latin American Writers Reading the World: Alejo Carpentier and Octavio Paz seminar, alongside readings from Desde Hong Kong – a collection of poetry published last year in celebration of Paz's centenary – by a number of local poets.

While several exhibitors sought to link books to culture, language and tourism, for a number of Chinese publishers the focus was more on the tie-up between film and books. Marysia Juszczakiewicz, the Founder and Owner of the Hong Kong-based Peony Literary Agency, said there are now strong links between Chinese literature and film, as well as a distinct Hollywood interest in Chinese works.

In line with this, Juszczakiewicz, whose agency has a particular focus on China, highlighted the upcoming Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Green Destiny, a sequel to the Oscar-winning 2000 movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, set to be released in the first quarter of 2016 as a Netflix original film. Then novelisation of the film is to be published by New York's Weinstein Books, with the book written by the British author Justin Hill and based on the writings of Wang Du Lu.

Explaining the tie-up, Juszczakiewicz, who handles Wang's back catalogue, said: "The novel is an adaption of the original stories. The film tie-in is a martial arts story in English, which is a genre we haven't really had. When Crouching Tiger came out, there was nothing in English, which was such a shame because people were interested in the story. With the sequel, the film and the book might help broaden the readership."

Juszczakiewicz believes there is considerable scope to do more film tie-ins based on Chinese stories. She said: "It's all about trying to have Chinese stories on as many platforms as possible. Books to film are a good way to go."

Photo: Ensou: Promoting Japanese tourism.
Ensou: Promoting Japanese tourism.
Photo: Ensou: Promoting Japanese tourism.
Ensou: Promoting Japanese tourism.
Photo: Juszczakiewicz: Film providing a literary boost.
Juszczakiewicz: Film providing a literary boost.
Photo: Juszczakiewicz: Film providing a literary boost.
Juszczakiewicz: Film providing a literary boost.

In terms of books from and about China, Juszczakiewicz said non-fiction business titles and books by journalists remained popular, but there was an increasing diversity of voices emerging in Chinese fiction. Pete Spurrier, the Hong Kong-based publisher of Blacksmith Books, reported a similar experience over the past year and said he continues to publish mostly Hong Kong and China-related non-fiction, with about half of his sales coming from outside Hong Kong.

This year, one of Spurrier's authors, Jason Y. Ng, was a featured writer of the Book Fair. This saw the author giving a seminar outlining how his international background has influenced the way he reads and writes.

While there were new Chinese voices emerging in translation, Chinese readers looked to big-name fiction writers for translated works. Juszczakiewicz noted that Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, "has been on the top of the charts for several years". Other popular authors in Chinese translation also include Haruki Murakami, Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Dan Brown. In children's' books, the Magic School Bus series has found a strong readership, as has Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic, The Little Prince.

Juszczakiewicz said the non-fiction market was now mainly dominated by original Chinese works, but some non-fiction works were also finding a readership. In particular, she cited the popularity of The Collected Essays of Francis Bacon, Secret Garden, an adult colouring book by Johanna Basford, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the business and self-help classic.

She said: "Just as English-language readers like to have non-fiction written by their own domestic writers, it is the same in China. It also works the other way – very little translated Chinese non-fiction has sold globally."

Aside from China and Japan, books from South and North Korea proved of particular interest this year, with readers seeking out novels from South Korea and non-fiction books from North Korea. Despite the growth in interest, however, Juszczakiewicz believes translated Asian works remain fairly niche in English-language territories. France, however, continues to be a popular market for such translations, while also having a tradition of commissioning a lot of work from Asia.

With this year's Book Fair attracting around a million visitors, many Hong Kongers were, once again, using the fair as an opportunity to purchase books at discount prices. Outside of the fair, though, many Hong Kong bookstores continue to face challenges, especially in terms of rents.

Assessing the scale of the problem, Spurrier said: "The bookselling business seems stable in Hong Kong, but rents have risen over the past 12 months. Several high-profile bookshops have had to close or move premises. This was not because they couldn't sell books, but because they couldn't compete with the rents being paid by jewellery or fashion stores. As a publishing house, we too had to move earlier this year – relocating from Central to Fo Tan – after our landlord increased the rent by 60%."

Away from bricks and mortar outlets, digital publishing continued to play an important role this year, with nearly 20 exhibitors in the e-books and e-learning resources zone. Texas-based Emotion Technology was on hand to push Amazon's Kindle in Hong Kong, while a number of smaller exhibitors were also keen to promote the digital agenda.

Hong Kong's Wellfit e-Book Limited was taking part in the Book Fair for the first time, having launched its debut series of audio books. The 10 titles include classic Chinese literature as well autobiographies of several Hong Kong artists, with the promise of more titles in October. Wellfit uses the talents of Hong Kong celebrities and local performers for the recordings, with plans for its range to ultimately be Bluetooth-enabled.

Spurrier, too, said he also looking to reach new markets with e-books and was converting his catalogue into formats suitable for Nook, Kobo and Kindle. In addition, he said he was increasingly looking to social media as a way to promote his range, including giveaways to bloggers on websites such as www.goodreads.com and www.librarything.com.

He said: "You have to keep up with new developments, in our case, e-books and new methods of book promotion. In publishing, I think the important thing is to develop judgment in terms of choosing just what to publish. Then you have to follow-through by promoting new books in every way possible."

Photo: Wellfit E-books: E-readers thrive, while conventional publishers worry about the rent.
Wellfit E-books: E-readers thrive, while conventional publishers worry about the rent.
Photo: Wellfit E-books: E-readers thrive, while conventional publishers worry about the rent.
Wellfit E-books: E-readers thrive, while conventional publishers worry about the rent.

More than 580 exhibitors from over 30 countries and regions took part in the 26th HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair. The fair, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center from 15-21 July, staged more than 360 events and featured leading writers from around the world. According to a survey by the event's organisers, the show's one million visitors spent an average of around HK$900 each.

Melanie Hoare, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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