The immense wealth of the Asia-Pacific region was highlighted again in the Forbes 2022 billionaires list released in April: the region has the most members in the ranking. Asia’s economic importance to the United States was also underscored last month by President Joe Biden’s trip to the region, where his administration announced a list of 13 countries representing about 40% of global GDP that would join the new Indo-Pacific economic framework: Australia. , Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Missing in particular: China, which was described in May by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as “the most serious long-term challenge” to the international order. The competition between the two has recently brought a wave of books that examine the geopolitical and economic debate, such as The long game by Rush Doshi and Mistaking China by Aaron Friedberg.
What’s new in books that go beyond these hot topics and explore Asian arts, language and culture more broadly for international readers? What other types of books and authors are successful in Asia?
To find out more, I spoke to Eric Oey, president of Tuttle Publishing at the company’s US headquarters in North Clarendon, Vermont. One of America’s oldest publishers with a 190-year history, Tuttle opened a publishing outpost in Japan to supply books to the US military in 1948 and has since grown into one of the world’s largest publishers. of English books on Asia with a focus on arts, languages and culture. I followed up by email afterwards. Edited excerpts follow.
Flannery: What are the major trends in the global book market this year?
Oey: Book sales did very well in 2020 and 2021. A lot of that was due to online sales. This year, it looks like bookstores are doing better because people want to go out into the world again, shop and look for new things. Physical experiences and travel are slowly coming back – and coming back fast in the case of domestic travel in the United States, as well as some countries in Europe. In Asia, it is still not coming back, but it will return to pre-pandemic levels very soon, possibly even by the end of this year.
In Asian book markets, bookstores have been closed for most of the past two years. In some cases they have only just reopened and it is too early to tell how the sales will go over the whole year, but in general the trend is very positive. However, much of what has happened online over the past two years will come down to the physical. Online sales are weaker – Amazon, for example, is not doing as well this year. Popular categories are constantly changing, and sales are book-to-book and author-to-author.
Flannery: What about the book market in Asia?
Oey: The market is really very specific to individual authors. In general, the comic book market is booming with series like Jujutsu Kaisen and demon slayerand the children’s book market is very strong thanks to successful series like Dog Man, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Percy Jackson. Fiction, in general, is doing very, very well with new titles every year from hugely popular authors like James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham as well as more literary offerings from writers like Louise Erdrich (The night watchman) and Liane Moriarty (apples never fall). Books by Asian authors like Min Jin Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri and John Okada are also very popular. Mutual aid is always strong, for example Atomic Habits by James Clear and the decluttering books of Marie Kondo. All of these trends are global and not specific to Asia.
What works well in Asia itself are pretty much the same titles that work well here in the United States. The English-language book market is international. The bestsellers that appear on the New York Times list can be found in bookstores all over Asia. It is difficult to
isolate what is happening in Asia from what is happening in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Flannery: What trends do you see for the future?
Oey: One trend is that expensive picture books have gone out of fashion in recent years, unless they have some kind of big brand or some other kind of media exposure – social media, TV, movies, etc.
It’s also one of the paradoxes of the book market today that everyone says young people don’t read much now because they’re always on an electronic device. And yet, sales of children’s books continue to increase every year, especially picture books for children. You could say that parents buy books for their children because they want them to read. But anecdotally, you see that children actually love to read, and when people buy books for them – parents or grandparents – they read them. Reading books is therefore a habit that is still very much alive today and is even on the increase.
To some extent, book sales are also increasing right now because baby boomers are retiring, have more time to read, and become interested in reading. They have money and the ability to buy books. And more great books are being published than ever before.
Many people have the mistaken idea that the book market is suffering a similar fate to other publications and print media, but in reality this is not true. The book market has grown steadily every year. Sales of printed books are exploding and new bookstores are opening everywhere, including in Asia. Several hundred new bookstores open each year in the United States, often independently operated by true book enthusiasts and people who know the book trade. It looks very healthy. We hope this will continue.
Another trend worth mentioning is the growth of small independent presses like ours. Most people don’t realize that two-thirds of all books sold each year in the United States and around the world are produced by small independent publishers like us, not the big houses. Of course, best-selling bestsellers are mostly published by big houses because they can afford the huge advances these authors get. But these bestsellers actually represent a minority of the overall book market, which is incredibly diverse. A typical bookstore, for example, carries 10,000 to 20,000 different titles, far more than a typical large supermarket, which carries 2,000 to 4,000 different products. Smaller publishers have the advantage of knowing more about specific niches in the book market, and they have relationships with authors they know personally and who trust them to publish their books in a more personal way. The majority of books published and sold are produced by these small businesses. So the publishing industry, which is a very old industry of course, is a bit of an anomaly – it’s almost a cottage industry, where big isn’t necessarily better. And it’s the same for bookstores! Smaller stores know their customers and can provide more personalized service – which is why they are doing very well now.
Flannery: You’re having success with print books for learning Asian languages at a time when companies like Duolingo are also having success online.
Oey: There’s a lot of interest in online learning platforms, and most college-level textbook publishers are now offering their content digitally, especially in STEM fields. In the past, we would spend hours in front of the photocopier making photocopies of articles or book chapters, etc., for course readings. Now, course readers are assembled and distributed digitally.
Flannery: So how are your language learning books fitting into the market today?
Oey: Sales are increasing. All of our books are available digitally and in print. The majority of our language learning books are not adoption manuals, but auxiliary texts. We publish high school and college level textbooks, but we package them so they can also be sold in bookstores to self-directed learners. In this way, we have two markets. This is an unconventional approach – no one else does it.
So you have expensive textbooks that sell for $80-$120, and then you have our textbooks that are just as good in terms of content, but priced at just $25-$30. Our books are adopted by many universities as textbooks and are very useful for students. We also cover many Asian languages that no one else covers like Korean, Indonesian, Burmese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai and Hindi. These are all major languages spoken by tens of millions of people.
There is also a large market for self-directed learners – people who simply enjoy learning languages or do it for work or traveling in Asia, or who want to deepen the Mandarin or Japanese they learned in college after been hired for a job. They have to go out and buy a book to refresh their knowledge of the language in their free time.
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