As Penguin Random House SE Asia goes live, PRH plans just shy of 100 mostly English-language releases this year across the region

A common theme here at TNPS is the much-overlooked demand for English-language content in parts of the world where English is not the first or official language.

Perhaps nowhere has that been more apparent than with the Big Bad Wolf phenomenon, where a Malaysia-based outfit ships literally millions of English-language books to countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, etc in eleven day flash sales that run 24/7 and attract crazy numbers of book lovers.

In 2018 Big Bad Wolf shipped over 30 million books to just such countries, attracting over 3 million visitors.

Big Bad Wolf – TNPS Story of the Year 2018

Now publishers are beginning to sit up and take notice.

Earlier this month the world’s biggest trade publisher, Penguin Random House (PRH) launched its PRH SE Asia arm with 93 titles planned for the year.

Based in Singapore, the PRH SE Asia catalogue features writers from ten countries across a range of genres and topics.

From The Straits Times,

These include books by Singapore-based authors, among them an otherworldly urban murder mystery by Krishna Udayasankar, a short story collection on diaspora by Elaine Chiew and a light-hearted comic novel on Bishan beauty parlours by Straits Times journalist Akshita Nanda.

From elsewhere in the region, there are titles by bestselling Indonesian novelist Laksmi Pamuntjak; Indian writer Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, who won the British Betty Trask Award for debut novels; and Filipino journalist Rene Acosta, who has written about the war on terror in the Philippines.

Penguin Random House India and South-East Asia (SEA) chief executive Gaurav Shrinagesh told The Straits Times the venture is looking at 500 titles in all.

 We want to provide authors a platform to engage with a larger readership within the Asian community and potentially look at how to give them voices internationally.

Admiral sentiments, but curiously PRH SE Asia is opting for mostly English-language titles to get started.

That fits comfortably with the TNPS theme of global demand for English-language content, but raises questions about how serious PRH is with this SE Asia venture. Simultaneous launches in both English and regional languages would be impressive. Launching in English only will by definition limit the reach and impact of the titles and pose distribution challenges with few book stores able to stock a wide range of English-language titles.

The titles will be given a digital outing too, but again, distribution challenges will arise, with the Kindle and Apple Books stores notable for their absence in the region.

The Singapore office, fronted by executive editor Nora Nazerene Abu Bakar, was described by PRH CEO Markus Dohle in a press release last October as ‘a natural extension and complement’ to the PRH international reach.

The October statement declared the venture’s remit to,

discover and publish local and international voices across English-language adult and children’s fiction and nonfiction formats for Singapore and Malaysia, as well as from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Myanmar,

adding with the slightest nod to local languages:

the region…is seen as one of the most promising of the emerging publishing regions, with much great writing across genres in English and regional languages.

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