Buying Local Literature to Read Our World (Part 2)
By Shawn Pang
Continued from Buying Local Literature to Read Our World (Part 1)
The Woes of Marketing SingLit Books
The #BuySingLit campaign came in the wake of the 2015 National Literary Reading and Writing Survey commissioned by the NAC, which highlighted that only one out of four respondents had read a literary book written by a Singaporean writer before. Among those who did not read SingLit, around 44% indicated that they had not been exposed to, or were not aware of, local authors or literary works. Furthermore, the survey also highlighted that more than 90% of respondents preferred to read books written in English but on the average, only about one in four of ethnic Chinese, Malay and Tamil respondents read in their mother tongue.
After the #BuySingLit campaign was over, the NAC revealed that more than 23,000 people had attended the #BuySingLit weekend’s programmes. More than 70% of the respondents in a survey conducted then indicated that their interest in SingLit had increased after attending one of the events. Meanwhile, the participating book retailers reported an average of 24% increase in sales compared to what they would sell on a typical weekend. Furthermore, there was good engagement of the public in places where the SingLit titles were available, from bookstores that carried the local literary titles in all four official languages, to a restaurant that offered SingLit titles in its waiting areas.
Nevertheless, questions about whether more could be done to promote SingLit had been raised, in addition to concerns about the sustainability of the increased sales of SingLit titles after the #BuySingLit campaign’s hype had subsided. Furthermore, the #BuySingLit weekend came about at a time when there was a flurry of cultural events fighting for the public’s attention. The short duration of the programmes meant many who could not make time that weekend would miss everything. Spreading out the programmes over several weekends might help ensure that people who hope to attend will be able to do so.
Celebrating and Buying Local Creativity
Perhaps, the most important aspect of the #BuySingLit campaign was the opportunity to reflect on the key challenges that the local publishing and retail companies face. Bookstores have to work hard to promote SingLit titles and give those books the shelf space needed in order to be seen. Although awareness may not automatically lead to purchases, without awareness, any purchase is left purely to chance. The founder of local bookstore BooksActually, Kenny Leck, pulled no punches when he told the national broadsheet that the publishers and bookstores need to work harder to reach Singaporean readers. “We don’t point enough at ourselves,” Leck was quoted in The Straits Times. “We need to do better at marketing our books in this time of social media.”
However, this is a predicament that has percolated over a period of time, and the solution will probably involve an equally lengthy course of action. After all, raising awareness, cultivating interest in SingLit in people of all ages, and respecting local creativity enough to pay, is a long-drawn affair. In the borderless world of literature, reading will continue to be the key to broaden our horizon. That is why I am glad that the local book industry has fired its first salvo with the #BuySingLit campaign.
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