Here is the second installment of questions and answers with Bookazine’s Robert Pfaff. Bob has provided insight in the process of how books are selected for the English speaking audience. He also has an interesting take on how books which are set in Asia or have an Asian theme are perceived by publishers, editors, and booksellers outside of Thailand.
How do you explain the success of books like Bangkok 8?
- Well I do know that someone high up at Random House decided to publish it, along with a significant marketing spend to ensure some measure of success. It basically had a champion of it on the inside of the industry. So it helps when a company with massive resources decides to back a book, whatever the category. Some people have really liked the book, others thought it was drivel, I can’t really say. I did read it when I was in the States but it didn’t really have anything memorable about it so I can’t remember if I liked it! We’ve certainly sold quite a few over the past couple of years, and his new one, Bangkok Tattoo, is steadily selling in larger C format but will do better once it’s out in paperback.
When you speak to book publishers and editors from abroad, what is there view of books set in Asia?
- To be honest the conversations at book fairs and meetings with publishers are usually about the performance of international books in the Thai market. Novels set in Asia seem an afterthought to Penguins, Simon & Schuster, TimeWarners of the world. It has come up a few times and the comments have generally been dismissive insofar as that they are not confident in a novel set in Asia selling 50,000 copies in the UK or US. So they basically tend to ignore the genre. Of course, they’ve picked up a few here and there, and made some mistakes in not picking up others, but it’s really a difficult perception to change.
Do novels set elsewhere in Asia such as China and Japan sell through in Thailand?
- Yes, there are a few that sell well here. The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, by Adam Williams has sold very well. It’s an excellent historical adventure set during the time of the Boxer Rebellion in China. But we sell more works of non-fiction histories about China and Japan, such as The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang.
There are a fair number of booksellers in Thailand. Is the market becoming overcrowded?
- In my opinion the market is fragmenting a bit, especially along the Sukhumvit – Silom corridor. Think about it: along Sukhumvit and Silom you have 9 Bookazines, 11 Asia Books, 2 or 3 B2S stores, a few new Nanmee stores, the new Playground bookstore, Basheer Books, and a host of used bookstores. Granted there are a lot of people traveling through these areas but I just don’t believe that level of saturation is sustainable. The only think we can focus on in such a competitive environment is ourselves. In other words, if we continue to bring an interesting range of titles into our stores, along with great staff to help customers discover anything they might want to read and run our fair share of promotions I believe we’ll be fine. There may be a few casualties the coming year or two.
How does Bookazine’s bookstores differ from its competitors in selecting books to sell? For instance, do you rely heavily on New York Times bestseller lists or do you have other means for selecting the books you stock?
- We carry most of the NYTimes bestsellers, and look to other bestseller lists like the Guardian, USA Today, Amazon.com, etc. We also rely heavily on suggestions from our customers and anyone else who cares to recommend a book. We also attend the Frankfurt Bookfair and receive visits from all of the major publishing houses twice a year that showcase the books they plan to focus on in the way of marketing and media. There is a process behind it, but it can be very subjective from title to title.
I understand that Bookazine may consider an annual award for books published in Thailand. Is this something we can expect in 2006?
- That’s true! A very good friend of mine suggested the idea and I think it would be an excellent way to create some excitement about books here. While art is not supposed to be a competitive sport, and we’re not going to give away bags of cash like Man Booker, I think the idea of an annual award could create some buzz and provide local authors some additional exposure. It could be another great blurb to sell one’s books. I still have some thinking to do on it but it’s really a great recommendation.
Bookazine also offers a service for people living in Thailand who buy books from amazon.com and as I understand it, you offer the books available at amazon at a lower price with the same time for delivery. Please explain how this works. - We are in the process of rolling out a Special Orders service making it easier for customers to buy books we don’t carry in our stores and that may be hard to find in Thailand. It’s quite simple: anyone can find an in-print book, whether on Amazon’s site or elsewhere, bring the information into a local Bookazine, leave a small deposit, and then come around to pick it up in a couple of weeks. Because we ship so many books and magazines from the US, our freight provider is a much cheaper alternative to the shipping charges associated with a book from Amazon and we can extend that discount on to our customers. Just ask our staff and they will show you how easy it is.