Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Window to the world, window to business?


"Books are a window to the world" is not an empty saying. Reading books certainly broadens our horizons and increases our knowledge. However, in Indonesia, books are not one of life's essentials. Interest in reading among Indonesians is the lowest in Southeast Asia, lagging behind Malaysians, Thais and Singaporeans.

This low interest in reading is probably connected with the country's low income per capita. Buying books here is not a priority for most. However, is it really correct to assume that low purchasing power affects interest in reading?

Well, the answer could be yes or no. The fact is certain books enjoy a great readership here. Indonesians also caught the Harry Potter fever, making JK Rowling's books best sellers here. Indeed Nobel class novels, such as those written by Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, etc. do not interest many, but teenager novels sell quite well.

Chicklit, short for chick literature, are novels that mostly tell about the world of women in their 20s, about the trials and tribulations of a young woman's career and love life. It is about their struggle in coping with the quarterlife crisis. Such novels seem to offer a new insight into young urban women and have drawn the interest of many readers.

Gagas Media is one of the country's publishers that believes in this concept. Established on July 4, 2003 it has quite a number of such popular novels with the teenage segment as the target market. Some of its successful books are: Jomblo, Cintapucino, Miss Jutek, Sihir Cinta and Kok Putusin Gue.

Gagas Media, which publishes at least four titles every month, has a vision to introduce books as something popular. Another publisher, Gramedia, which started out in the business in 1970, has also joined the chicklit bandwagon by publishing the metropop novels written by some of the country's best sellers in this genre -- Albertine Endah, Syahmedi Dean and several others.

Next to pop novels, religious literature is starting to interest a larger number of readers, so much so that according to Kompas Study and Analysis Center such books have for the past four years been leading in sales, just slightly below comics and children's books. This trend has been strategically anticipated by Gramedia as well as other publishers, such as Mizan, LKIS and others.

The strength of Gramedia, which was established by the Kompas Gramedia Group, lies in its interesting topics as well as its distribution system. From a small 25-square-meter shop on Jl. Gajah Mada, West Jakarta, in 2002 Gramedia bookstore had 50 major stores spread throughout the country's large cities. In the early days it sold only books, however in later years the products offered included stationery, fancy gifts, office equipment, sports items as well as high-tech products like CD-ROM and audio-video books.

The marketing of Gramedia is also supported by a large number of international and domestic publishers and suppliers, including its own internal publishing companies, such as Gramedia Pustaka Utama, Elex Media Komputindo, Gramedia Widya Sarana, Bhuana Ilmu Populer and Gramedia Magazines Publishing. For foreign books Gramedia has a links to a huge number of leading international publishers that today number more than 250.

Among the United States publishers are Simon & Schuster, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill, Maxwell Macmillan, Addison Wesley, John Wiley, Harper Collins, Bantam, Random House and Baker & Taylor, while from Europe there are Penguin, Cambridge, Oxford, Elsevier, Grossohaus, Hachette, Longmans and MacMillan. For Japanese books Gramedia has links with Kondasha, Japan Publication and Toppan while publishers from other Asian countries include Canfonian, Asiapac, UBSPD, S. Chand, S.S. Mubaruk, Pan Pacific, Mighty Mind, Federal Publication and many others.

What about foreign books? Well, there is a niche for the book business in spite of the low interest in reading here. When one compares it with the low income per capita it is not a very accurate comparison in view of the book business in the country in the macro sense. Attractive foreign books enjoy a certain middle to upper-income bracket segment of the market.

Some bookstores are in fact doing very well in this premium segment, for example Periplus, Kinokuniya, Aksara, Maruzen and Karisma just to mention a few. The market for imported books is quite large, such as books on graphic design, architecture, media, interior design and management. Glossy coffee table books offer good reading material and also function as an attractive display item. "Occasionally, people buy books on impulse. They are attracted by a book's appearance and decide to buy it," said Hana Yakin, senior business manager of Periplus, which specializes in imported books and has 35 outlets in several big cities in Indonesia. "What makes our books sought after is that they are on topics that Indonesian publishing houses do not produce. For that reason, imported books can serve as important reference."

The problem is, however, the foreign book business is certainly not an easy one. The return is very slow as it is not a massive business. The owner of such a bookstore has to have a passion for this business.

When one dares to open such a business one must be sure that there is sufficient capital for quiet times. A large amount of capital is in fact required because the location has to be very strategic. The store is not a place to display books on simple racks, but it has to be a sort of a meeting point that is convenient and comfortable. Plus, there should be sofas for enjoyable reading, Internet facilities and a cafe serving drinks and snacks for customers.

Indeed, competition is tough as local bookstores are also importing foreign books, which means they are taking their slice of the pie. On top of that, local bookstores offer translated versions of the imported books that are sold at high prices at the major bookstores. The translated books are on the bookshelves within a week of the original versions. While it is no easy game to work in such a narrow niche it does not mean that there are no opportunities for the 'think smart and act smart' businessperson. (B. Gunawan)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

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