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Thai Publishers Using Social Media to Find Readers and Writers

Date: September 16, 2014
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​By Dennis Abrams


Writing for the Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee reports that “bloggers and netizens are being tapped by traditional publishers dedicated to the noble goal of passing on the reading bug – while making a few baht in the process.”


He cites the example of one video clip that went viral. It featured a mock interview with a Westerner talking about his first experience of being cursed at by Thai people. “Deftly using comical expletives and po-faced humour, the clip clocked up one million hits within 24 hours. At the end of the five-minute video, called BKK 1st Time, the clip reveals itself to be an advertisement for a new book, a lighthearted piece of non-fiction written by a Thai student. The gist of the matter is that this publication, entitled New York 1st Time, [was] to be launched at the 42nd National Book Fair, the country’s largest annual gathering of booksellers and readers…”


“It’s hard to qualify,” said Charun Hormthienthong, president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (Pubat), “but that clip has really got people talking about the fair and has perhaps even attracted extra visitors. It’s created a buzz, which social media has spread very efficiently, especially among younger people.”


Kong writes that the praise from such a major force in the industry reflects a major concern among Thai publishers – the rapidly changing relationship between online media and “the well being of the publishing sector. At the beginning of this year, Charun “expressed concern about the irresistible pull of social media and the tool it had taken on the book market saying that young people now have less time for books.”


Even so, Kong believes that Charun’s latest remark represents an acknowledgment of social media’s ability “to generate buzz is in line with the attitude taken by many Thai publishers who have been skillfully exploiting Facebook and the blogosphere to sell traditional ink-and-paper books.” Instead of viewing the online world as competition, they are working to “harness its ability to boost sales, connect with readers, facilitate marketing tactics and even harvest new materials for book sales.”


Natchanon Mahaittidon, editor-in-chief of Salmon Books, the publisher that came up with the BKK 1st Time clip told the Post that “We use social media as a public relations tool, but we also see other opportunities in it. We’ve been making video teasers to accompany the launch of each new book: this one just happened to be the most successful. But it’s more than just PR. I think the use of the web and Facebook can foster relationships between our writers and our readers. We can make the writers appear ‘more real’ – more accessible – to the readers.”


Kong writes that Salmon Books currently assigns microblogs to each of its writers in order to encourage great communication with their readers. By early summer, it will launch a new project called Mini Wall, an “online content market where installments of a larger text will be offered for small fee.” This will be open to almost everyone. “For instance, a novice author could let people read the opening chapter of his/her book for free, then charge 5 or 10 baht, say, for access to the second chapter, and so on.” According to Natchanon, this would be consistent with the reading habits of Salmon Books’ young target audience, “who consume words morel by morsel, rather than devouring whole chunks at a time.”


It’s interesting note that while the rest of the world moves from physical to electronic books, Thai publishers “see the profits to be made by going in the opposite direction. And again, Salmon Books seems to be a pioneer in this area, “known for harvesting writing talent it spots online which it views as an effective way of transforming small, web-only sensations into bigger, mainstream hits.”


As Natchanon explained, “Sometimes I approach writers, inviting them to publish with us, simply by going through their Facebook posts. For instance, I asked Kanchat Rangsrikamsong to write for us – his first book was about K-pop groupies – because I liked his witty status posts. Another writer, a young woman called Tuna, got a comic-book deal with us for the same reason, and because she has lots of followers online. Generally what I look for when I’m browsing through my Facebook timeline is to see whether the posts I like could be expanded into book-length material. If I think there’s a possibility, we go for it.”


There are, of course, other publishers working with the same strategy. Sataporn Books, which specializes in teen romance and fantasies, has bought over 100 titles over the past seven years from materials originally written for online consumption. It’s biggest hit to date is Cubic: a suspense thriller about a Thai woman facing off against the Hong Kong mafia, which started off as a blog novel and had gone on to be reprinted more than a dozen times and is being adapted for a TV series.


“Blog novelists are mostly in their teens,” Worapan Lokitsatapon, MD of Sataporn said. “And they write stories driven by the same ambition that makes people take part in singing contests – in order to become superstars, to break out onto a far bigger stage.”

“We have editors who follow what’s popular online, and we have dozens of young writers approaching us every month. I think there’s still lots of good material being written online, so this trend is sure to continue. In that world you have a large number of young writers coming up with all kinds of plots. It’s limitless! As publishers, we can see the potential in expanding from that.”

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