Part of the Around the World in 8 Hours virtual conference. Full schedule for today available here.
Next up on our publishing tour of the world: Malaysia. We’ve got a Twitter chat with Amir Muhammad, CEO of Buku Fixi, in conversation with writer, blogger and lecturer Niki Cheong.
@nikicheong: I’d like to give a quick shout-out to all those tuning in from around the world via the #pdmc15 hashtag and your interest in Malaysia!
Let’s start with background on Buku Fixi – they specialise in urban pulp fiction and started in 2011. They have published 91 books to date. Even before films, [Amir] used to write (for newspapers), so in a way, this is a return to his first love.
Can he give a background on the market for books in Malaysia is like? Niki asks because there is a perception locally that Malaysians don’t read – what’s his take on that?
“It’s not such a big market, but expanding (with the expanding middle class),” says Amir. “A fiction bestseller is about 50k copies.” There’s an expanding market, he continues. Population 30 million, with mainly Malay, but also English and Chinese books.
“We have found that there is a hunger for books, but not enough variety as yet to cater to everyone. For example, a huge annual event is a remaindered book sale that is open 24 hours a day for 10 days. It’s always full.”
What kind of genres do Malaysians generally consume? “I was once told: Malays only like books about religion, food and romance. For Malay fiction, definitely romance is big.”
But there are clear gaps. “Local non-fiction in English: lots of politics. For example, our former PM Dr. Mahathir wrote his memoirs first in English. Malaysian English fiction still suffers from ‘cultural cringe’ – most readers thing US/UK books are automatically superior.”
Most of the books Buku Fixi publish are in Malay, was that just due to market size? “Yes,” says Amir. “It’s much more of an industry in Malay. There’s a chance to reach more people. But also, there are more possibilities because a lot of genres haven’t been explore in Malay. For example, we have a zombie novel.”
They don’t purely focus on their own business, but collaborate with other publishers on occasion. They’ve worked with “many new small-to-medium publishers in the past 5 years. They range from poetry to critical non-fiction. We work together on events including on campus. For example, the 8th KL Alternative Bookfest, which I co-founded, is this weekend!”
What are their most popular genres of books? “We stay away from romance because it’s too saturated!” he says. “Our most popular genre is horror. We also have thrillers and comedies.”
One twitter user asks, YA fiction is huge in the UK at the moment, has this translated into Malaysia too? “Yes. We have translated Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, but neither sold as well as our translation of The Fault In Our Stars. YA by other local publishers tend to be ‘nice’. Ours tend to be more brutal, with ghosts, killings, etc.”
Another asks if Malaysian authors are using social media to promote themselves? “Social media is crucial because younger readers don’t usually believe in traditional media (government propaganda),” Amir says.
An amalgamation of the brutal YA, horror and zombie books mentioned throughout: What’s with the gore? “The zombie novel writer @adibzaini is gory in person. His timeline is mainly about pro wrestling.”
Will Malaysia see a publishing platform like Wattpad in the future? There’s lots of creative talent there. “I am sure there will be!” he says. “The biggest publishing company in Malaysia started as a website for serial novels.”
A return to his mention of government propaganda – do they face any problems/restrictions with authorities? “There is corporate censorship! The biggest book-chain in Malaysia doesn’t stock our Malay books, so we have to work harder.”
What about the appetite for ebooks? “Ebooks are so new here. Llast year it account for 3% of our sales. I don’t foresee a dramatic increase. But yes, a ‘Spotify for books’ would be good. We are on a subscription service called Bookmate. Very slow so far!”
Are your books translated and sold around the world? “We have sold rights to two but to Indonesia (almost the same language!). Concentrating on domestic first.”
But what doesn’t sell in Malaysia? “Alas,” he begins. “Scifi doesn’t sell but we will keep trying! Also for us, things set in the past – readers can’t relate.”
“By the way,” Amir adds. “This is the cover for the first Malaysian zombie novel (in 2011).”
Amir is asked to quickly talk about the KL Alternative Book Festival and what kind of impact it had on the market. “As someone said of it: ‘Jack Kerouac is here!’ Lots of writing by people who started out in zines, etc. Good atmosphere.” He also links to an article for anyone interested.
Last question from Niki – what kind of books are Buku Fixi looking for, and is it just Malaysian authors? What do authors need to know?
“We are starting an international anthology in June. .We will also make sure our website has an English version! Stay tuned!”
Fascinating insight into Malaysian publishing, and a really active and enjoyable Twitter chat. The next step in the tour stays in Malaysia, and can be found in this blog here!