The Tet (lunar New Year) holiday has just ended and book fairs set up for the event raked in over a quarter million dollars in book sales in the week long event.
Fully half of that came from the Ho Chi Minh City event, held across three streets in District 1 – Nguyen Hue, Mac Thi Buoi and NgoDuc Ke – where more than 26,000 titles by 12 major publishers and distributors were available, while District 1’s well-established Nguyen Van Binh street earned a revenue of $88,000.
Across the country smaller versions of the Ho Chi Minh City event collectively brought in the remainder, with the Vung Tau city book fair on Ba Cu street hitting $44,000 in sales.
Meanwhile the Hanoi Spring Book Fair earned $8,800 in just its first two days.
To put that in context, the three week long Edinburgh International Book Festival, part of the wider Edinburgh Arts Festival that is one of the biggest arts events in the world, typically sells about £60,000 ($87,000) of books.
But this is just part of a far bigger picture of keen interest in books in Vietnam, a country on the radar of very few western authors and publishers.
One of the problems is that books are often sold outside the infrastructure we western authors and publishers regard as the primary revenue generators..
There are of course “traditional” book stores and online book retailers catering for Vietnamese readers, and despite the absence of four of the Big 5 western ebook retailers ebooks are also popular in the country.
But many book sales happen outside the regular channels, at book fairs and, in some cities, on book streets.
Vietnam’s premier international book fair, the Ho Chi Minh Book Expo, regularly attracts over two million visitors and in 2016 (I’m still trying to track figures for 2017) registered sales to the value of 50 billion VND ($2.2 million).
UPDATE: I have the 2017 figures and HCM City 2017 equalled the 2016 sales revenue of $2.2 million, while attracting 2.4 million visitors, putting the HCM City event on par with Sharjah and Kolkata as one of the biggest book fairs in the world.
Smaller fairs like the August 2017 International Book Fair in Hà Nội‘s Thống Nhất Park took a further 10 billion VND ($440,000).
For the 2018 Book Expo TalkVietnam reported 350,000 titles will be on display at the tenth incarnation of Vietnam’s biggest book event, opening March 19 through 25th.
Discounts of up to 40% are part of the attraction, as will be the choice, with many titles that will not be easily available from Vietnam’s regular bookstores.
While selling books to the public is a central part of events like this, the Book Expo will also be the place to connect books with publishers.
Phạm Minh Thuận, general director of the FAHASA, Ho Chi Minh’s book distribution body, said
We will set up nine stalls offering copyright deals to serve local and foreign publishers and distributors.
Watching the Publishers Lunch international deals it’s fascinating to see how any deals are now happening with publishers in countries like Vietnam, a clear sign of western publishing’s new level of international engagement as the Global New Renaissance unfolds.
The Vietnamese book streets, mentioned above, are an important part of the new opportunities emerging in Vietnam, and the book street history is worth encapsulating here.
Even before the latest Tet fairs, Ho Chi Minh City’s first and most famous book street, District 1’s Nguyen Van Binh Street, had attracted nearly 4 million visitors and brought in revenue of 67 billion VND ($2.98 million) since its inception two years ago.
In July it was reported by the Vietnamese Publishers Association that January through June 2017 some 1.2 million people had crammed into Nguyen Van Binh, a street given over to bookstalls and literary events.
In the first three months of 2017 books to the value of 11 billion Vietnamese dong ($500,000) were sold on the book street.
By June that had risen to 19.7 billion VD ($900,000).
No surprise then that a second Book Street recently opened in Ho Chi Minh City and more are planned.
In September last year Publishing Perspectives reported on how Vietnamese books are finding interest as far afield as Russia and New Zealand.
With a population of 95 million, and 64 million people online, Vietnam is the twelfth largest country in the world by internet users, with more people online than any west European country except Germany.
One might therefore expect to find a Kindle VN store and an iBooks VN store, but bizarrely neither Amazon nor Apple have any interest in Vietnam or the wider SE Asia book markets.
While Kobo books are accessible in Vietnam with the Kobo US store, paying in US dollars, only Google Play of the Big 5 western ebook retailers has a localized Vietnam store.
But Vietnam along with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, are part of a cluster of countries in SE Asia with an avid book-buying public that represent lucrative opportunities for authors and publishers willing to engage.
Still unconvinced? Ponder that the Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam book fairs alone attract some five millions visitors each year, and the region is host to five of the biggest book sales in the world, the Big Bad Wolf sales (not yet in Vietnam), which manage to sell literally millions of print books in typically ten-day 24-hour mega-sales.
As this post goes to press the Philippines Big Bad Wolf event, with two million books for sale, still has a few days to go.