Prior to Hong Kong's return to China in 1997, the administrations of many foreign and local publishing groups were worried about whether or not Hong Kong would tighten control over the publishing industry. Would Hong Kong popularize books with simplified Chinese characters? Would Hong Kong continue importing books using traditional Chinese from Taiwan? Would Hong Kong push the Chinese language education policy? What's the future of English book market?
A decade has passed since its return to China. An overview of the past ten years of development by Kwan Wing-kei, the retail director of The Commercial Press (HK) Ltd., gives a promising outlook on where the industry has been and where it's headed.
Prosperous publishing and book selling
After its return, Hong Kong didn't tighten control over the publishing industry, according to Mr Kwan in his article published on Chinese Book News on July 3. If someone wants to open a publishing company, he/she only needs to make a simple commercial registration. The Hong Kong government did not establish any book censoring system.
Local citizens widely accepted the simplified Chinese characters. Some primary and middle schools worked the simplified Chinese into their curriculums in addition to teaching students with traditional Chinese. However, books published in Hong Kong continued using the traditional Chinese. A large number of the traditional character books were imported from Taiwan, whose sale far exceeded the simplified from the mainland.
The Hong Kong government carried out a series of Chinese language education policies, but the citizens didn't undervalue English education. Books of English edition sold well and the market continued enlarging; the publishing and book-selling trend surprisingly pleased the insiders.
Diversified book publishing
During the ten years, the publication became diversified. In the past, the companies mainly published literary books like novels. In recent years, books also covered topics on investment and financing, commercial management, personal health, living, and current social and political affairs. Among them, books analyzing current events, which were hardly sold out in the past, became top sellers, showing a change in readers' tastes.
As for the printing technology, ten years ago, if the printing-run is 2,000 to 3,000 copies for a book, it would be cost-efficient; but now as the technology is improving, it will be cost-efficient for the printing-run of only 1,000 copies. So books with fewer readers can be published now. Viewing this positively, some new writers' production can be publicized, and it will avoid neglecting the talents. On the other side, some unqualified books may flood the market for the low cost.
Flourishing book retailing
The increasing number of medium and large bookstores shows the well-developed book retailing market. Three retail sales systems under the Hong Kong-based Sino United Publishing (Holding) Ltd -- Joint Publishing Company Ltd, Chung Hwa Book Co. and Commercial Press -- kept operating actively. In the ten years, their branches increased to 40 from some 20; the book varieties expanded greatly; and, new bookstores specifically for literary history, social science, English, law, and university students appeared.
Hong Kong also saw more foreign investors. Ten years ago, there were bookstores operated by businessmen from Singapore and Malaysia like the Popular Holding Ltd, which is still thriving. Now, Dymocks from Australia came to Hong Kong and cooperated with South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. to take advantage of the English book market in Hong Kong.
Investors from the mainland like Xinhua Book City Co., Ltd. of Guangdong Province and Cite Bookstore from Taiwan also provide a new atmosphere for Hong Kong book retailing and enrich the readers' choices.
Reading on the Internet or with a book?
The development of the Internet strongly impacted the publishing circles in Hong Kong, like in most places in the world. It changed reading habits, with online news and blogs replacing the traditional magazines, newspapers, and books. Hong Kong publishing circles kept close watch over the development of electronic reading and publishing. Some companies have invested a large amount in the area, hoping to get a jumpstart on the market. It looks as though the impact of the Internet on Hong Kong's publishing industry remains to be fully determined.
(China.org.cn by Zhou Jing, July 10, 2007)