Penguin Random House to set up South-east Asian publishing arm in Singapore

Copies of Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell, published by the Penguin publishing house, are displayed at a bookstore in London, on April 5, 2013.
Copies of Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell, published by the Penguin publishing house, are displayed at a bookstore in London, on April 5, 2013.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Local authors will soon have a shot at publishing with the world's biggest trade publisher in their own backyard, with Penguin Random House planning to set up a South-east Asian publishing arm headquartered in Singapore.

The venture, which was announced on Monday (Oct 8) on the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair, is called Penguin Books Singapore and will launch in 2019 with some 50 titles in print and digital formats.

It aims to discover and publish local and international English-language adult and children's fiction and non-fiction from Singapore and Malaysia, as well as from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brunei and Myanmar.

Penguin Random House India and South-east Asia chief executive Gaurav Shrinagesh will oversee the new arm, while Ms Nora Nazerene Abu Bakar, who has had 12 years' experience in the publishing industry with the likes of Pearson Education South Asia and Marshall Cavendish Education, will serve as executive editor from November.

Mr Shrinagesh said: "Singapore represents a promising melange of Asian and Western literary sensibilities, catering to a wide audience. As a country, it is investing a lot to develop its publishing landscape and significant literary events and festivals held here further bolster its role in highlighting South-east Asian literature."

He said that Penguin Random House's first objective is to try to understand the local market and audience and plans to work closely with the "associations that align with authors and readers". He has met with the National Arts Council, Singapore Book Council and Singapore Book Publishers Association to learn about their initiatives.

"I would love to explore works from all of the region, looking at various genres and subjects that are relevant and real," he added. "We aim to take these voices to international markets."

There was previously a Penguin Random House unit in Singapore, but this was a distribution arm that handled the import and export of titles.

Asia-based Times Publishing, a Fraser & Neave media group, acquired it and its counterpart Penguin Books Malaysia last year.

Booksellers such as Mr Kenny Chan, Books Kinokuniya (Pacific Asia Region) senior store and merchandising director, feel this development could make the publishing scene more vibrant. "It really ups the ante by putting Singapore in the centre of publishing for this region and beyond," he said. "I see this as another plus for writers to find another avenue to show their stuff.

"It is also up to our local publishers to adapt and fight for the same finite talent in the publishing industry."

Singapore Book Publishers Association president Peter Schoppert noted that local publishers have already been competing with Penguin Random House publishers for decades, as they have been exporting to Singapore for many years. "The Singapore market is highly favourable to importers as we don't recognise territorial rights and we give overseas e-commerce players an advantage in shipping books here.

"But it's great to have them here, originating books locally, contributing to the local ecosystem, paying taxes here," added Mr Schoppert, who also helms academic press National University of Singapore Press.

Mr Edmund Wee, founder of local publisher Epigram Books, said he would reserve comment until Penguin Random House's plans become clearer. "We have to wait and see as we don't know what it is going to do. I hope it helps to raise the standards of local publishing." Epigram publishes a list of about 50 titles a year, including books by Malaysian writers.

Local authors with titles published abroad under the Penguin Random House umbrella include Kevin Kwan with the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (2013 to 2017), cartoonist Sonny Liew with graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015) and Thea Lim with her debut novel An Ocean Of Minutes (2018).