With a population of 20 million Sri Lanka is bigger by population than all but eight countries in Europe. That alone ought to put Sri Lanka on the radar of publishers as a lucrative market.
Its 16.6 million Sinhala speakers is close to the population of the Netherlands. Its 4.7 million Tamil speakers give it a market close to the population of New Zealand or Ireland.
With 6.7 million internet users (32% penetration) Sri Lanka has almost as many people online as there are people in Bulgaria. Yet the western ebook retailers are indifferent to the possibilities.
After all, we all know Sri Lankans don’t read. And if they don’t read in their own language, what chance they would even look at a book in English?
According to Wikipedia there are just 74,000 English speakers in Sri Lanka.
Which meant when Big Bad Wolf set up its debut book sale in Colombo last October –
it was on a hiding to nothing, right? After all the Big Bad Wolf specializes in carting English-language books – new print books – halfway around the world to venues as unlikely as Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and, last year for the first time, Sri Lanka.
Last October Big Bad Wolf shipped 1.5 million books to the event. And vowed never again.
No, rewind that. Big Bad Wolf is back in Colombo later this month, this time with more than 1.5 million books, and the excitement is palpable.
As ever it’s a 255 hour non-stop (literally 24 hours a day) book sale that will run from June 28 through to July 8. Yep, and eleven day non-stop book sale, selling English language books to a country where almost no-one speaks English.
Such is the power of the English language.
The media launch yesterday to announce the imminent event made headline news across the country,
Said co-founder Andrew Yap,
We are truly excited to be back in Sri Lanka with an even bigger and better book sale this year. Last year’s event was a huge success and an eye-opener on how enthusiastic Sri Lankans are for good quality, affordable English books. We’ll be bringing over a wider range of titles for book lovers in Sri Lanka this time around.
Big Bad Wolf’s local partner, Director of ProRead Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd, Nishan Wasalathanthri, added,
We are pleased to bring the Sale back to Sri Lanka for the second time. Last year was the first time a book sale of this scale had ever been held at Sri Lanka and we pulled off an unforgettable event.
Dipak Madhavan explained that there would be more adult fiction this time around.
We anticipated a high demand for children’s books last year, but we were surprised to find out that there was also an enormous demand for fiction titles, which flew off the shelves. We’ll be bringing over an exciting variety of fiction books and bestsellers to meet the demand of readers this year.
Big Bad Wolf has already happened in the Philippines and Indonesia this year, with a second Philippines run lined up –
and has bigger ambitions still. As well as its regular Malaysia and Thailand events, Big Bad Wolf this year is set for Taiwan.
No official announcement yet but we have it on good authority the Bangkok event is scheduled for August 10-20 and Taiwan for August 17-27.
Big Bad Wolf launches are also being lined up for South Korea, Dubai and Bangladesh
More on those as news comes in.
I’ll end here by noting that, if you were thinking 1.5 million English-language books for Sri Lanka was crazy, ponder this.
Earlier this year the second Big Bad Wolf event in JJkarta, Indonesia, had 5.5 million books. And 4.5 million of them were in English.