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.

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