Sunday, August 17, 2008

Indonesia: an emerging major market for books

Indonesia may not be on your map of the publishing world, but it's certainly a market to watch. The Republic of Indonesia is the world's third-largest democracy (after the USA and India), with about 235 million people, and is currently the world's 20th-largest economy and growing fast. Predictions by Goldman Sachs suggest Indonesia will be the world's 11th largest economy by 2050, behind only China, Japan and India in Asia.

But do the Indonesians buy books? Well, the low standard of living for most Indonesians makes books a luxury item, but its middle class is growing. It's currently an estimated 18 million—larger than the population of the Netherlands, and almost the size of neighbouring Australia. As the middle class grows, there is a growing need for books of all kinds, but especially educational, professional, business and technical books. Last time I visited Indonesia, I was also impressed the number of Arabic language and Islamic titles for sale, which shouldn't surprise: Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic country, after all.

Indonesia has a decent-size and growing publishing industry. The Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) has about 800 members, up from 450 members just five year ago. The vast majority are based in the most populous island in the Indonesian archipelago, Java, which is home of the capital, Jakarta.

The major challenges facing the Indonesian book industry are structural.

Firstly, maintaining a supply chain over 33 provinces of the archipelago is not easy and, for all the growth in Indonesia's retail sector (shopping malls seem to shooting up everywhere), bookshops are few and far between, with the exception of those run by Gramedia (Indonesia's equivalent of Borders, WHSmith or FNAC, and also a publisher). This is one reason why IKAPI recently established an Indonesian Book Centre in Jakarta. The Centre is home to 200 publishers, providing a focal point where booksellers, authors, wholesalers and consumers can meet with publishers and buy their books. Opened in May 2008, it's still early days for the Centre, which has so far failed to capture the public's imagination, according to a recent report in the Jakarta Post. Business-to-business transactions are reportedly more encouraging. The annual Jakarta Book Fair (or Pesta Buku Jakarta, pictured) is another way of reaching out to the general public and is well-attended by locals (although there is little rights activity at the fair).

Secondly, textbook publishers face the challenge of operating in a market where the Government is under enormous pressure to provide educational materials at a very low cost, or even free. While the large number of 'international schools' are able to buy books for their students, Indonesia's public education system struggles to make ends meet as it tries to educate its enormous population. The Indonesian Educations Ministry's recent initiative to make educational materials free online threatens the income of educational publishers.

Lastly, doing business in Indonesia can be problematic. Graft and corruption is not unknown, particularly in the customs and excise department, making the simple activities of import/export something of a trial. The legal system can be unpredictable too, making things such as enforcement of copyright somewhat chancey. Matters are improving, however. The Government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has announced a zero tolerance approach to corruption, and thousands of public officials have found themselves prosecuted by the Anti-Corruption Commission (the KPK) in recent years.

Indonesian publishers are certainly buying and paying for books, notwithstanding the challenges in this market. As well as lots of US books (Indonesia has a historically close relationship with both the Netherlands and the USA), I saw Bahasa Indonesia editions of books from France, the UK, Australia and even Slovenia on display at the Pesta Buku.

If you're interested in finding out more about this growing market, why not take some time at Frankfurt to visit the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) stand at Hall 6.0 E915? You may be pleasantly surprised. If your interests extend to Indonesian literature, the Lontar Foundation website is a good place to start. It's role is to promote Indonesian literature internationally.

1 comment:

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