If you are strolling around Hong Kong’s harbour-front in Wanchai, watch out for your toes. The area is overrun at this time of year with wheelie-bags being whooshed around. The cases belong to Hong Kong Book Fair goers who are heading for the heaving five-storey Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, looking for the best book deals.
In its 21st year, the book fair has become one of the most popular in the region – it expects to attract more than one million visitors in 2010. Among the 510 exhibitors, Hong Kong, Mainland Chinese and regional publishers are the most numerous but international players increasingly want to get a piece of the ever-growing Asian book market. That’s why publishers everywhere from Argentina to Switzerland to Denmark are represented.
“The regional book industry is doing well, as the economies in most Asian countries bounce back quicker compared to the UK, US and European main markets. India, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand are our top markets,” says Janet Chan of Pan MacMillan Asia.
This year, the fair offers up its biggest section of English-language books to date. Among the speakers on the seminar’s list are British author and actor Stephen Fry and novelist Frederick Forsyth as well as local authors, including Xu Xi whose seven fiction titles about Hong Kong’s “hybrid culture” have spawned a young generation of local and regional writers publishing in English. “[At the beginning of the 1990s] there was very little publication in English. Today, we have six or seven independent creative publishers,” Xu Xi says.
Fiction sells best – Jeffrey Archer books take the lead at Pan MacMillan’s stand – travel and self-help titles also do well here (the fair is awash with books on how to get very rich, very fast with titles on offer including Timothy Vick’s How to Pick Stocks Like Warren Buffett and Learn to Earn by Peter Lynch).
And then there are the so-called pseudo-models Debby Kinki, Chrissie Chau, A. Lin and Dada and many more, who became all the rage last year as (male) buyers lined up to get copies of the models’ “books” full of provocative shots of the women posing in bikinis (either eating ice-cream or sausages). Although the models are still allowed to sell their photo-albums, the fair’s organiser, the Hong Kong Trade & Development Council (HKTDC), has banned their book signing sessions this year for fear of tarnishing the event’s image.
“In terms of cultural value, [these books] are not extremely high in my view,” says Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director of the HKTDC. But open any local newspaper entertainment section and there are the pseudo-models in their entire half-naked splendor, stealing some of the book fair’s limelight.