First, an interesting stat about the reading habits of the Thai public: Thais are estimated to read only two books per year for pleasure, and spend 285 baht ($9 USD) per year on books. I wish they would clearly define what they mean by this. Do magazines count? Newspapers? Comic books? I'm thinking no, but can't say for sure. The good news is that this number is one the rise: the amount spent on books per person in 2003 was only 166 baht.
I'm of the opinion that most "bookstores" in Thailand are glorified magazine racks, but regardless the number of them has increased dramatically, according to a report compiled by Se-Ed Bookstore: 678 in 2003, 955 in 2006, and 1913 (!) in 2007. That's a 100% increase in one year. Sounds like they might have changed their definition of what constituted a bookstore, to be honest.
In 2003 there were 374 publishers in Thailand (defined as registered members of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand). By 2006 that was up to 492, but down 491 in 2007.
The report divides publishers into three sizes:
- large = revenue greater than 100 million baht (annually, I assume)
- medium = revenue greater than 30 million baht
- small = revenue less than 30 million baht
Total market revenue
Despite the relatively little reading doen by the average Thai, the total revenues of the publishing industry in Thailand increased by more than 70% between 2003 and 2007, from 10.5 billion baht to 18 billion baht.
The page doesn't contain these statistics explicitly, but doing some basic math (always dangerous for me), I calculated the average income for publishers in each of the three categories.
In 2007, the average large publisher took in 282.5 million baht in revenue, versus 300 million in 2003 (a 6% decrease). The average medium publisher had 64.3 million baht in revenue in 2007, compared to 56.8 million in 2003 (a 13% increase). And in 2007 the average small publisher had 5.8 million baht in 2003, versus 6.4 million baht in revenue in 2003 (a 9% decrease). The market getting crowded, perhaps, but the overall market is growing healthily.
New titles per year only slightly increased from 2003 to 2007, from 10,108 to 11,455. With the increase in publishers, though, this means that average new titles per publisher fell, from 27 to 23. This doesn't account for existing titles, though, and there are plenty of books still in print several years (or even decades) down the road. I'd like to see some statistics on total titles per publisher.
Reading all of this, I wonder how print-for-hire services offered by the likes of Amarin, both a publisher and a printer, are factored into all this, both in revenue and title counts. Having been out there recently, I now know they routinely do mini-print runs of as little as 300 copies, and the quality of the printing is just as good as anything out there in Thailand. I imagine many (if not most) of these for-hire titles are never sold to the general public, and instead are published for some specific occasion or limited purpose, though I don't know for sure.
Books and the GDP
Despite its growth, the publishing industry is (not surprisingly) miniscule when compared with Thailand's overall gross domestic product. In 2007, the publishing industry took in 18 billion baht, compared with a nearly 8.5 trillion baht GDP. That's a puny 0.21% of the GDP.
Compared to the U.S.
It's interesting to compare the facts and figures there to the figures from the United States. (That page is very scattershot, but I'm not about to shell out cash to read the Barnes report on the U.S. publishing industry.) The Association of American Publishers site also has some information. If you know of other, better free sources for publishing data, let me know.
For example, in January 2009, book sales tracked by the AAP were down 4.4%, to $743 million. That's 25 billion baht, or nearly 150% of the annual revenue of the entire publishing industry of Thailand, in one month (and a bad one, at that).
If we estimate average annual book sales in the U.S. at 8 billion USD, or roughly 280 billion baht, that means the average American purchases $26 (~900 baht) in books per year (dividing by 300 million -- parents buy books for infants, too). When you factor in the difference in books prices, though, that's actually quite similar to the Thai number of 285 baht per year.
If you're interested in this topic, do click over and read the full stats for yourself. Here's to hoping the Thai book industry continues to grow.