Indonesian Publishing Scene: An Overview

*Ditulis untuk publikasi di majalah Publishing Perspectives atas permintaan editornya, Edward Nawotka. 

Two years ago when The Lost Symbol, a thriller novel by Dan Brown, created a booming in US and UK  book market, the same thing happened in Indonesia in its own smaller scale. Indonesian translation of this book was released three months after the English edition and heavily promoted by the publisher, making it a best-selling book of the year 2010. In the same year Indonesian reader also feasted with the publication of the Millenium Trilogy, Twilight Saga, and books by Malcolm Gladwell.

Although foreign bestselling titles do not always became bestselling here too, Indonesian publishers followed international book trend closely. We can easily find Indonesian edition of world bestselling titles displayed prominently in book stores in main cities across the country. The genre covered generously from mainstream novels, romance, historical, fantasy, and also non-fiction like health, business, motivational and more. Competition is high among publishers to acquire translation rights, that some time the offer is unusually high for some most wanted titles. 

However, recently the trend shift slightly as more and more books by domestic authors gains popularity. Among last month’s top ten titles in Gramedia, the biggest chain bookstore in Indonesia, there was only one translated title. This is not the first time to happen. “Books by local authors are more likely to sell better than translation now,” said one sales person in Gramedia.

The trend toward local works has begun to grow slowly since the publication of the first book by Andrea Hirata, Laskar Pelangi (Rainbow Troops) in 2005, which is a mega bestseller with nearly more than half a million copies sold.  Inspired by the type of story Andrea has written--about his childhood’s struggle for education--more and more local authors confidently send their works to publishers, get published, and more importantly, get into the best-seller status.

Another milestone in local trend is the publication of books by Raditya Dika, a blogger, with his first book coming in 2006, Kambing Jantan. This book is highly popular, sold more than 100,000 copies and has been adapted into a movie. Bloggers get enormous attention from publishers since then. Many more blogs turned into book. The latest one from this author is Manusia Salmon (The Salmon Man), published this year, which also reached a phenomenal sales number.

The appetite for books in this country is considerably low. The number of titles published each year is miniscule in comparison with the number of its large population. Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) estimates their 600s members produced approximately only 13,000 new titles each year, with number of copies sold around 41 million last year. Most of the publishers are in Java Island, so there is also a problem of maintaining a supply chain over the scattering islands in this archipelago, which may also be the caused of low market penetration, among many others.

For many low income populations, books are still a luxury item. So, middle class is the main book-buyer in this country with population of 248 million people because they are best able to afford books. And, the rapidly rising middle class has now reached a number of 50 million household, creates a great opportunity for book consumption. As the middle class grows, there will also a growing need for books of all kinds.

However, publishers and booksellers still have to work hard to promote reading and book-buying habit. A chain bookstore owner, Johan Budi-Sava, once expressed his surprise at how people say book is too expensive while at the same time they easily spend the same amount of money to buy food at McDonald’s or PizzaHut. His chain bookstore, Togamas, is now growing to become a good sparring-partner for the long time player Gramedia.

Readers usually wait for book fairs to buy books. Three book fairs hold annually in Jakarta (Islamic Book Fair, Jakarta Book Fair and Indonesia Book Fair), and once or twice a year in some other cities. Book fairs in Indonesia are mainly for hard sales activities, in which publishers open stalls to sell back-list titles with heavily discounted price. This creates some uneasy relationship with bookstores. Togamas offers an all-time discount prices to every new book they sell, range variously from 10 to 25 percent of publisher’s retail price.

Many publishers are now actively involved in foreign rights acquisition. Since last year, Indonesian Publisher Association has also open Rights Center for trading rights in Indonesia Book Fair every November in Jakarta, to encourage domestic publishers to sell and buy rights with foreign publishers. Participants are mostly publishers from the neighboring Southeast Asian country, Iran, and, for the first time this year, Korea.

It can be said that copyrights piracy which once gave a bad name to Indonesia book publishing industry has now been left behind in general trade book. But government still needs to pay a great effort to eradicate piracy which still happens in some informal photocopy kiosks near big universities, mainly for academic books.

Piracy is also an issue that caused publishers’ slow and reluctant approach to digital publishing. But some new players of start-ups have begun to take steps into publishing eBook, and big names in Indonesian publishing like Gramedia Pustaka Utama and Mizan Publishers have also produced digital version of some of their back-list titles. No report of sales generated to make any conclusion of their progress yet. Despite all that, publishing scene in this country is vibrant and growing. The largest potential right now is the children and teenage market. With population growth rate of 1.4% and more than half of population under the age of 40, they are indeed a promising emerging market.



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