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Hong Kong Book Fair

Tropical storm puts dampener on Hong Kong Book Fair

Turnout and average spend down at Asia’s largest book fair, after event in Wan Chai was temporarily closed over the weekend due to bad weather

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 9:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2017, 10:55pm

The seven-day Hong Kong Book Fair ended with mixed fortunes for some publishers, after the tropical storm at the weekend caused the event to be closed temporarily and prompted vendors to offer discounts to customers.

Despite thousands of people making a last minute rush to the fair in Wan Chai on its final day on Tuesday, overall visitor numbers fell short of the expected target of 1 million – slightly lower than last year, though the exact figures have not been disclosed.

According to fair organiser the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the average spend was also lower than last year - with the average visitor spending HK$812, compared to HK$902 in 2016.

According to exhibitors, travel and children’s books seemed to sell relatively well, but works of political satire, usually extremely popular at the event, were less prominent. Almost no new works of satire were on display, but old titles continued to sell reasonably well.

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Some publishers said sales had been heavily biased towards children’s books, and called for the TDC to lower rents at the event.

“Under the political climate with what happened to the Causeway Bay Bookshop booksellers (which sold political books but were taken to China from Hong Kong under mysterious circumstances), there is almost nobody writing new political books,” said Pang Chi-ming, publisher at Subculture. “We are now selling more books on Hong Kong culture, but the business is bad.”

The book fair had a record number of exhibitors, at 670, from 37 countries.

Lai Man-chuk, a co-owner of Flintstone Culture, said he laments that people “hesitate to spend HK$10 on a discounted serious book while parents would easily spend thousands of dollars on children’s books.”

Claiming he represented more than 50 exhibitors, Lai called on the TDC to lower the rent and review the policy of the same pricing for prime positions and stalls at remote corners of the event.

A TDC spokesman said there have been arrangements to help smaller publishers since 2010, and that location is not the only factor affecting visitor numbers.

Education and children’s books were among those doing the best business, with some children’s book sets from Oxford University Press selling for HK$50,000 or more.

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A spokesman from the publisher told the Post that sales had been “encouraging and positive,” but refused to disclose actual figures, citing commercial confidentiality.

Dick Wong, assistant general manager of Sasame Publications, a children’s book seller, said parents typically spend hundreds of dollars, though some would spend thousands.

But he said the enforced closure by the typhoon on Sunday had shaved 8 per cent off expected revenue.

Another popular topic was travel, the official theme of the book fair this year.

“We have seen our travel book sales grow by about 20 per cent. Our books on Tokyo were sold out after the first three days,” said Simpson Wong, who runs iGlobe Publishing.

Derek Li, chairman and CEO of Enrich Publishing, said one of his priorities this year is to encourage new fiction authors to take up the baton for the future.

“We want to encourage writers to write proper novels with a good plot, like a good movie, rather than online novels which are more like television dramas,” Lee said.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said after a tour at the book fair that he hoped there would be less waste generated this as a result of packaging and unsold books.

The TDC said there are arrangements for exhibitors to donate books which will be given to charities.