In 2006, the Hong Kong books and periodicals market was worth almost USD1billion. Imports were largely from China (86%), the U.S. (3.5%), the U.K., Taiwan, Singapore and Japan, in order of market share. International firms publish international and regional newspapers, periodicals, English textbooks and children’s drawings and coloring books in Hong Kong while the Hong Kong publishers supply Chinese and English textbooks, mass-market books, periodicals, special-interest books and newspapers. As Chinese is Hong Kong’s principal language, Chinese books and periodicals continue to dominate the market.
Imports of books and periodicals should continue to increase in the next two years, fuelled by increasing demand for cheaper Chinese books from China. Increased demand for English books from libraries and the general public will also expand imports. Government efforts to increase library collections in schools present opportunities for U.S. book suppliers to increase their exports to Hong Kong. Sales prospects for children’s drawings and coloring books, travel guides, leisure magazines, “pop” economics, and English language instructional books remain bright.
The book and periodical retailing and distribution market in Hong Kong is very competitive. Parallel imports, especially of U.S. periodicals, hamper the competitive situation. Most end-users still buy their books at bookstores. Although website-awareness is increasing, the volume of books purchased through the Internet is still small. In the face of impending competition from Internet book sales, however, local book retailers are keeping retail prices of imported books and periodicals low, thereby enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. books against local publications.
Retained imports comprised mostly English mass-market and special-interest books, textbooks, children’s drawing and coloring books, English dictionaries and encyclopedias and periodicals from the U.S. and the U.K., Japanese comics, periodicals, art /design books and Chinese mass market and special interest books from China and Taiwan.
International publishers produce regional newspapers and periodicals, special interest and reference books for both the local and international markets and English textbooks for local schools and universities. Hong Kong publishers supply both English and Chinese textbooks, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, mass market books, children’s drawings and coloring books and special interest books.
The local publishing industry has about 500 firms comprising a few large (and many small) publishers of Chinese books (most of whom also double as book retailers) and about 130 international firms who publish English books. Local publishers sell their publications to local bookshops, libraries and overseas customers.
Chinese books dominate the market, as Chinese (mostly Cantonese dialect) is the mother tongue of majority of the population. English is the dominant foreign language among the working population, especially those in the financial/banking sector and other service industries.
Hong Kong’s official languages are Chinese and English. Government reports and publications are available in both languages. Since reverting to Chinese rule in 1997, however, English has become less popular as a medium of communication among the local Chinese in Hong Kong. This is partly the result of the Hong Kong government’s on-going policy of supporting the use of the mother-tongue teaching in schools (started in the 1980s) and the government’s commitment to promoting the wider use of Chinese in official business. Cantonese is the medium of instruction in all government primary schools with English taught as a core subject. Beginning in 1998, however, the government also introduced mother-tongue teaching (in Cantonese) in junior secondary schools (Secondary 1 to 3) except for the teaching of English language. Currently, only a handful of primary and secondary schools teach in English. Parents of children attending these local schools with mother-tongue teaching are increasingly seeking good English language books to improve their level of written and spoken English. This presents opportunities for selling more English language books and publications in Hong Kong.
During the past five years, the number of predominantly English book retailers in Hong Kong has increased while the population of English readers has decreased. This has resulted in a very competitive book and periodical retailing and distribution market. Parallel imports of magazines, especially those from the U.S., has exacerbated the competitive situation. Industry sources estimate that parallel imports comprise 50-60% of magazines sold in Hong Kong.
To satisfy their reading habits, Hong Kong residents either borrow books and periodicals from public libraries, buy from bookshops or from the Internet. 3.3 million or 47% of Hong Kong’s population are registered borrowers of public library books. Loans from public libraries decreased 2% between 2005 and 2006. There are 76 (66 static and 10 mobile) public libraries in Hong Kong with a total stock of 10.22 million books. 3 new libraries were opened in 2005 including The Education Resource Center, a specialized reference library on education. With an initial collection of 13 000 books, journals, electronic items and online databases, the center aims to provide information on education, language learning, and reference services for education professionals, researchers, and the general public pursuing continuing studies in education and related subjects.
Many American bestsellers are translated into Chinese for the Hong Kong market but little of this translation occurs in Hong Kong. Most companies have the Chinese translations done in Taiwan where the traditional Chinese script is used and is hence also suitable for Hong Kong Chinese readers. In China, the simplified Chinese script is used for written Chinese works. Hong Kong’s evolution from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, has exhausted the human resource supply of graduates with advanced English language communication skills. In its efforts to rectify the shortage, the Hong Kong government will be increasing the number of university places and will encourage more international education institutions to offer local extensions of their programs. This, is turn, could present more opportunities for U.S. book publishers, especially those publishing textbooks and course materials.
By Swee-keng Cheong