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Hong Kong English books publisher on the secrets to a best-seller, shops closing, and dangers and rewards of the trade

30 March 2017

From The South China Morning Post:

The closure of Singaporean bookstore Page One’s Hong Kong stores and branches of Australian franchise Dymocks over the past two years does not bode well for Hong Kong’s English book market. The corners in Chinese bookstores reserved for English titles are also getting smaller.

This hasn’t deterred Pete Spurrier, though, who continues to publish books in English with Hong Kong themes. From a penniless backpacker who arrived in the city in 1993, to the publisher of Blacksmith Books with a dozen local best-sellers to its name, the Londoner has come a long way. Spurrier has also written a series of popular hiking guides. He talks to SCMP.com about his love of books and Hong Kong.

. . . .

How do you choose which books to publish?

I am very flattered that I get manuscripts sent in from all over the world. I get three or four manuscripts every day. Often I can read the first three pages and know whether it will work or not.

English books written by local authors sell well. People see the Chinese names and think the books are bound to be interesting, as it’s quite rare for local [Chinese] authors to write in English. I have 80 writers now, with some having written several books already. If the first print run of 1,500 books sells out, the cost is covered. You make a profit from the second and third print runs.

Does the closure of English bookstores mean Hongkongers are losing interest in English books?

Not really. My book sales are quite steady. I don’t think English readership in Hong Kong is shrinking, but running a retail operation in Hong Kong is quite daunting now due to the high overheads.

Physical books still appeal, because you can make notes in them and give them to people as gifts. It’s not so easy to read an e-book in the bath. For the books I publish, the e-book version comes out six months after the paperback version. But they just make up 10 per cent of sales, with the bulk of the sales being paper books.

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Books in General, Non-US

2 Comments to “Hong Kong English books publisher on the secrets to a best-seller, shops closing, and dangers and rewards of the trade”

  1. If the first print run of 1,500 books sells out, the cost is covered. You make a profit from the second and third print runs.

    Contrast this with the high overheads in book publishing “over here.” I don’t think any of our trad publishers could say the same.

  2. My first publisher was in Hong Kong and I was published for a decade there before I was published anywhere else. The problem with publishing in Asia is that it is a v-e-r-y local and v-e-r-y personal business. For example, no Singapore retailer will buy from a Hong Kong publisher because…well, they’re in Hong Kong . I even had a big distributor in Hong Kong refuse to buy my books from my Hong Kong publisher because he didn’t like him. This piece is from a Hong Kong newspaper so naturally it is supportive of the publisher. Outside of Hong Kong, however, I’d wager he gets zero distribution and nobody gives a toss about anything he’s ever published. Here’s the bottom line: if you publish with a local publisher in Asia, insist on reserving your ebook rights and publish your ebooks on Amazon yourself. If you don’t, no one outside of your publisher’s home country will ever see them.

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