Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Australian Literature In Asia

The Gioi Publishers in Hanoi -- An Asialink partner
I was delighted to be invited recently to join the Literature Advisory Committee of Asialink. Asialink is based at the University of Melbourne. It promotes public understanding of the countries of Asia and creates links with Asian counterparts. With Literature, Asialink partners with a number of institutions and publishers in a wide range of countries to provide Literature residences.
I believe this sort of interaction helps develop a greater understanding of Australian culture in Asia as well as helping our own writers gain a better cultural awareness of our near neighbours.
I have travelled quite a bit in Asia and engaged with the publishing industry there. There are vast differences between countries. Singapore for example is a market for both English and Chinese books. Singapore is an open market. My experience there though is that books are rather more expensive than they are in Australia.
Malaysia has an established publishing industry that is becoming more sophisticated. There is some English langauge publishing, but the majority of books are published in Bahasa Malay. This linguistic singularity tends to mean the market for Malay books is closed, except for what may be shared with Indonesia.
Thanks to a need to abide by WTO protocols, Indonesia has moved to control piracy in its publishing industry. Piracy is still a problem, but the Indonesians are more and more cognisant of their requirement to abide by international copyright treaties.
The same is true of Vietnam. While many of the publishing houses in Vietnam are still state-owned agencies, including Literature Publishing House which will be producing my book Perfect Timing in translation later this year, publishing is buoyant there. Literacy is Vietnam is high, so there is a potential market of 85 million people. The Vietnamese enjoy Australian literature but don't have access to enough of it. There is no regular exchange of rights between the two countries.
Economics don't help. My book will sell in Vietnam for the equivalent of A$1.50, and my royalty is shared with the translator. I'll only be able to retire on the proceeds if all 85 million Vietnamese buy my book, which I think is highly unlikely.
But the fact that the book will be there and available is a sign that there is interest. If only Australians were as interested in reading the works of our near neighbours.

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