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Cultivating Readership, Protecting Rights

Cultivating Readership, Protecting Rights

The Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair, which runs from April 29 to May 7, is a major event on the international publishing calendar, with some 800 booths and 2.5 million visitors perusing books or attending launches, seminars and other activities. It concludes with the Kuala Lumpur Trade and Copyright Centre (KLTCC), a three-day trade meet organized by Perbadanan Kota Buku. Kota Buku is a one-stop centre (or “Book City”) to gather readers, writers and publishers, and help develop Malaysia’s book industry through capacity building, content trade, activities and technology enabling. Elite+ spoke to Kota Buku executives about content licensing, copyright, training, children’s books and other topics, with some of the key points condensed below. The complete interviews can be read at eliteplusmagazine.com.


Chief Executive Officer Sayed Munawar Sayed Mohd Mustar, on Perdadanan Kota Buku:

What are the major objectives of PKB?

Kota Buku has three objectives in which we intend to fulfill, which are:

  1. To become the one-stop centre for readers, writers and publishers in order to enhance and encourage the growth of the local book market. In a world where knowledge-based economy is becoming stronger, Kota Buku intends for the book and content industry to become a lead contributor in the national GDP.
  2. To become the agency that promotes local Malaysiana (MALAYSIANA connotes content relating to Malaysia)  content to the international market. In our case, it is books and digital content, traded in the form of copyright. The global rights trade is big business, and Kota Buku intends to make the most of it.
  3. To become the bridge for local and international publishers. Kota Buku envisions Malaysia a gatekeeper for ASEAN content. This is because historically, Malaysia is one of the most strategic location for trade, nicely positioned between East and West.


How does PKB fulfill its mission?

Kota Buku was given a mandate to facilitate the book industry and to do what we can to help it thrive. We noticed that there is a genuine need to provide capacity building for the local book industry and this can be achieved through training and market expansion. By training and marketing we intend to help industry players adapt to digital publishing and market their content abroad instead of just focusing on book sales. Therefore, Kota Buku established Kota Buku Academy as well as Kota Buku Rights Agency to help train and expand these niche but vital areas.

We also provide services to the book industry such as rights/literary agency, digital publication for authors, research and consultancy and also social enterprising. The function of the rights/literacy agency is to help publishers, underrepresented authors and self-publishers to promote and sell their copyrights through international book fairs. It is also important that we help them manage their contracts.

Since Kota Buku is focusing on the digital publishing economy, we are helping the industry to understand what it means to be a digital publisher and the potential it holds for expanding the market. We are currently developing a Digital Township that provides open access to Malaysiana content.

Kota Buku also strives to help the industry by engaging in research regarding book production, readership among Malaysians, sales and many more aspect of the book industry. As far as we know, there is not much research and data collection being done to obtain a finer picture on the reading demographics of our country. Once we get a better grasp at the reading culture among Malaysians, we hope to use that information to find better solutions and help with the convergence of conventional and digital publishing.

Last but not least, Kota Buku is working together with organisers of local book festivals and the Education Ministry to engage with the public and improve the reading culture. This is what we call social enterprising, where we not only encourage the publishers and authors to connect with the public, but also to share our knowledge and experiences with educators, policymakers, parents, etc.


What are some of the prominent activities of PKB? Kindly elaborate further.

As mentioned before, Kota Buku aims to represent Malaysian books and content on an international level. In order to do that, we need a suitable platform where local and international publishers and content creators can meet, conduct business of buying and selling rights, and acquire information. With that in mind, Kuala Lumpur Trade and Copyright Centre (KLTCC) came to be.

Another strategic plan to promote Malaysian content abroad is to participate in international book fairs and engage with publishers from around the world. We are the lead agency representing Malaysia for Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Beijing International Book Fair and Shanghai Children’s Book Fair. We also participate in other international book fairs as trade visitors, where we promote and conduct business on a different scale.

I also mentioned previously of social enterprising, where we connect the bridge between the public and publishers, authors and content creators. There are various levels of engagement which factors in demography and age groups. For example, one of Kota Buku’s prominent social engagement activities is Festival Sastera Kanak-Kanak, or Children’s Literary Festival which specialises in children’s content and activities. We have developed this festival into a platform where authors, content creators and educators get together to discuss and share experiences on children’s reading and development, and also various activities to encourage the children to love reading.

‘Kota Buku featuring…’ and ‘KotaBuku@’ are the two  terms we coined for collaborative projects with local book festivals and book activist communities all over the country to promote local works and reading culture, which will be prominent in our calendar. Last year, ‘Kota Kata’ was our most well-known and successful collaboration with Sindiket Soljah and Paradoks Production, and highly trended on Malaysian social media. For this year, we plan on introducing Kuala Lumpur Readers and Writers Festival to help elevate Kuala Lumpur’s status into a literary hub.


What is the state of the Malaysian copyright industry?

Any type of works that has been put sufficient effort into making it an original work, has been written down, recorded and/or reduced into material form, the creator and/or author is a qualified person, the work is made in Malaysia or was published first in Malaysia, then the work is eligible to be protected under the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987.

Based on the report by the World Intellectual Property Organization released in 2008, Malaysia has been showing consistent growth in terms of the copyrights and creative industries. It may be small, but it’s definitely expanding. In terms of books however, it still remains to be seen.

It used to be that the copyrights trade for books only flowed one way, which was English-to-Malay translations dominantly for education and reference books. There is also the reprinting rights segment, where international publishers sell the rights to printers for their services.

Once the demand for reading materials and consumer consumptions shifted and evolved, book translations from languages other than English has seen an increase. The local publishing industry has also been aggressive in producing tailor-made reading materials to suit the locals in terms of cultural nuances and local context. There is also the most noticeable trend for the past few years which is novel-to-television, where popular novels are made into serialized dramas for television. All of these involve the buying and selling of rights.

However, buying and selling rights is not a widely known industry. Most publishers rely on solely on their in-house rights departments to buy and sell titles. Since the e-book revolution, many of the well-to-do publishing houses have developed their own digital departments in attempt to penetrate the digital markets.

I think publishers everywhere know the benefits of integrating traditional and digital reading, and to also go beyond the borders of conventional print books. But they are still unaware of how and why they need to play the rights game in order to sell their product to the international markets.


What, in your opinion, is Malaysia’s strength in the copyright industry?

Kota Buku has identified six niche areas in which Malaysia is in the lead and known worldwide for. These areas are Islamic finance and banking, Halal industry, palm oil industry, Malaysia’s Hajj Management authority (Tabung Haji), biodiversity, and sosio-culture.

In order for Malaysia to compete with international content, we must provide them with something unique and truly Malaysian, especially areas in which Malaysia is the opinion leader to the world instances of which involve Islamic finance and banking. In fact, many other countries are referring to Malaysia in order to set up their own Islamic financial and banking models. Another example is the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), who has broad experience in the relocation of the poor rural population to settle into newly developed fields and farm cash crops, thus elevating their economic status. These are the areas which Kota Buku will play pivotal role in promoting them abroad.

University-lead researches in physics and bio-sciences are also expanding. In fact, a few Malaysian scientists have made international headlines for their breakthrough research in these fields. Dato’ Dr. Mazlan Othman in astrophysics, Dr. Pei Cheng Hua in oil and gas, and Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan in biotechnology to name a few.

A lot of countries want to learn from us, and this I think, is an opportunity that we must not miss.

Malaysian literature has been the most popular genre when it comes to translation into foreign languages. We have made quite a mark in exporting these genres. Since Kota Buku is not a publisher, we will further enhance on the current marketing strategy in collaboration with other existing bodies namely Malaysian Translation and Books Institute, Dewan Bahasa, MATRADE and also NGOs representing book industries in Malaysia.


What are the main challenges faced by players in the industry?

In my opinion, the main challenge for the industry is that the Malaysian market is shallow, and the way for expansion is by going abroad. Secondly, Malaysia being a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country leaves our book market porous to the incoming of imported books. Our book industry players will have to compete with the already established book publishers from abroad.

The emergence of book remainder companies and sales has gotten people to buy and read more books, and a boon for the younger population who are hungry for new reading material but have a limited budget. This may hurt the local industry in the long run because it is extremely difficult to compete with the prices of these remainder books.

In order to overcome these setbacks, Malaysian publishers and authors must come up with new ways to get their content into the market and hearts of the readers. In a digital age where almost everyone has a smartphone and an internet connection, publishers must change their mentality and shift their business models by finding the sweet spot between conventional and digital publishing. They must also get creative in how they market their intellectual properties (IP’s). One thing I find is that Malaysian authors are not the interested in expanding their IP’s, which must change.


Hasri Hasan, senior manager in the intellectual property department, regarding international licensing:

Please elaborate what is international licensing.

International licensing is the opportunities for a content owner to license their intellect property, whether it is a book, manuscript, illustrations and such. There are huge opportunities for authors and content creators to increase rights potential and collect royalties from different types of licensing. For example, a book illustrator licenses their work to be made into posters and toys. He or she will earn royalties from the poster and toy sales. Other than publishing, licensing also covers different formats of content such as television shows and film, media rights, permissions, and many more.


How does Kota Buku fit into the role of international licensing?

Kota Buku has lined up many activities for the purpose of licensing Malaysian. We attend major international book fairs and promote content that have the potential to be licensed. The biggest event solely focusing on licensing is Kuala Lumpur Trade and Copyright Centre (KLTCC).

A few of the big publishers are aware of the opportunities available abroad, and some have dedicated managers to manage their rights and exploits overseas. However, a majority of publishers are still not aware this potential, so their products only cater towards the local market consumption. Many of the traditional content owners are reluctant for cross-convergence, namely from print to digital or to animation, for example.

In order to educate these people to see the potential that their content can bring them, Kota Buku is working together with relevant agencies such as the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) and the National Film Agency (FINAS) to spur new cross-converging opportunities between print and digital media.


In your opinion, what are Malaysia’s strengths in terms of international licensing?

Malaysia has been the champion in a few topics, which has gained international recognition. These are the strengths that the country must capitalise on. The quality contents that Malaysia is known for are in specialised areas such as Islamic Banking and Finance, Halal, Muslim pilgrimage management (Hajj and Umrah), commodity exports such as palm oil and natural rubber, rich biodiversity, and unique socio-cultural population. These categories are the best bet for Malaysian content owners to build up good licensing cases and present them to the international market.

Kota Buku has also taken necessary steps to collect and consolidate these content to create a centralised repository. We call this repository ‘Malaysiana’, and will be promoting it to major book fairs around the world.


What benefits does international licensing bring?

By preparing world-standard content and properly managing their IP’s will give advantages to the content owners. With this, Malaysia can become the forefront in exporting quality content and give better profits to the content creators. With strong, well-written content and a systematically catalogued repository, Malaysiana has huge potential to become a powerful brand, offering unique and desirable content for subscription and archive objective for the nation. 


How optimistic do you feel about Malaysian content being licensed abroad?

Malaysian content has come a long way to becoming one of the most preferred content to buy the rights to, desired by nations such as China and Vietnam. In recent years, animations and mobile apps made by Malaysian companies have been popular in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Singapore. A few local illustrators have also won prestigious international awards and gained worldwide recognition for their art.

Such achievements are not gained by hard work and dedication alone. It must be accompanied by far-sighted vision of what they want their content to become and how it will evolve, understanding international tastes, and fine tuning the content to suit those tastes.


Razin Abd Rahman, senior manager in the trade department, on the Kota Buku Academy:

What are the objectives of AKB?

AKB stands for Akademi Kota Buku, or Kota Buku Academy. Our function is to provide relevant training courses with the focus on books of the future to publishers, content creators, students and the public. Our ultimate goal for AKB is for it to become a training hub for the book industry.


How did AKB come about, and what drove its establishment?

I have participated in many international book fairs, and it still astounds me to see so many publishers engaging in rights trade, and illustrators as well. There is so much potential! It could be said that the e-book revolution and mobile technology sparked new trends in digital convergence and transmedia.

When I joined Kota Buku, the first thing we notice was that training for rights trade involving content creators was practically non-existent in Malaysia. The awareness among publishers regarding digital convergence was still low. The idea to create an academy that caters to the industry, content creators and the public came to be, and officially established in 2014.


What is the main focus of AKB? And why do you think it is important for the industry it serves?

As advocators for future books, Kota Buku has taken responsibility to provide these types of training which are relevant for the book industry and content creators, in order to help them compete globally. AKB provides training in four aspects, which are: Intellectual property and copyrights, technology, publishing economy, and content creation.

Although print is still the preferred medium, the conventional approach no longer appeal to the tech savvy generation. That is why the industry must shift their mindset and be willing to change the way they do business.


Any prominent activities since AKB started? Please elaborate further.

AKB initially started with four programs during its first operational year. For the following year, the number of courses that we are able to provide grew and attracted participants of all ages. For rights training, AKB has invited UK’s most prominent rights agent, Ms. Lynette Owen, to Kuala Lumpur to give a 2-day workshop on buying and selling rights. It has been an eye-opener for the industry on how to better organise their rights dealings.

There are also courses offered to content creators, where the curriculum is geared towards digital publishing. The longest running course we have done is ‘Creating Digital Comics’, offered to secondary school students. AKB also collaborates with other organisations, agencies and groups, where their programs are mostly aimed for the public. This is a good platform to build and nurture good relations.


What are your hopes for AKB’s future?

We have been aggressively expanding our offerings of courses and seminars. The training AKB provides for the participants is to not only sharpen their skills, but to also expand their perspectives. The end goal is for them to produce high quality content and add it to the Malaysiana repository.

There are already plans to expand AKB on a more international scale, starting with the ASEAN countries. Kota Buku has ambitions to become the content hub for Asia Pacific, then AKB will follow as a training hub.