Friday, August 9, 2013

Lack of diversity in BookFest @ Malaysia 2013?

Just two days ago I had a Twitter conversation with my friends about the ongoing BookFest @ Malaysia 2013 held at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Since Twitter isn't allowing me to elaborate further on what I want to say, so I'll tell you more about what I mean to say here.

I Love Reading 8th Malaysia BookFest 2013 KLCC

As I have stated in my Tweet, the Chinese name of the event 海外华文书市 translates to Overseas Chinese Book Fair. That isn't reflected in BookFest @ Malaysia, the official English name of the event. But since my friend Zaim Mohzani can't see the world in Chinese, I have to excuse him. That's a problem when you want to be nice and inclusive in English to appeal to the rest of the nation while your actual target market is in fact, Chinese-speaking Chinese community.

Before I dwell into my analysis, I'd say that BookFest @ Malaysia is a huge success given its target market while Pesta Buku 1Malaysia barely live up to its name.

If you have been to the Chinese section of the book fair, you'll notice that the books are divided into subsections according to their country of publication - China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. This has been so since the inaugural event in 2006. Interests garnered from overseas Chinese publishers signals the attractiveness and profitability of the Chinese market. The Chinese population, although making up a quarter of the Malaysian population, is a sizable market for their purchasing power. The attractiveness of the Chinese market is compounded by the fact that many of the Chinese here have inherited deeply rooted cultural ideals from their motherland, aided by thriving Chinese vernacular education.

Now that the organiser has decided on the target market, next comes the question of book offerings. Now that the book fair is divided into three large sections: Chinese, English (& a bit of Malay) and "Lifestyle". The representative section is the Chinese one, hence this is where the name "Overseas Chinese Bookfair" comes in. The critical mass of Chinese publications in the world actually lies in China and Taiwan. The purpose of the book fair is to provide an opportunity for readers to obtain books published overseas under one roof, where these books may not be readily available in Malaysia.

What about the English section? Clearly the organiser did not forget about this segment of the market! But bear in mind that the organiser is Popular Book Co. Malaysia, which sells predominantly Chinese books and reference books for schools. It's undeniable that offerings in the English section may not be as diverse. As much of the weight of the book fair was put into the Chinese section, the organiser has only taken the best attempt to cater English readers and it's entirely understandable.

To answer the question of why Pesta Buku 1Malaysia become a predominatly Malay bookfair, the safe answer I can provide now is the inability of government efforts (or just about anything in Malay?) to cross cultural barriers. So language accessibility does not necessarily translates into visits :(

Why has Zaim Mohzani lamented about lack of diversity in Bookfest @ Malaysia? He "sees" the bookfair in two languages whilst the Chinese section remains largely inaccessible to him. Offerings in the English section is somewhat limited but the Chinese section is actually diverse in one common language. Whether you are making huge gains at the bookfair depends on your language and cultural attributes.

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