The Extended Lifeline of Print Publishing in Vietnam

shopping - Vietnam: yesterday

Many of us grew up enjoying the experience of buying a brand new book from a physical bookstore. However, as technology bulldozed its way into our lives, along came e-commerce and online bookstores like Amazon, where you can buy your favourite novels without even leaving your home. Therein signalled the death knell of physical bookstores around the world with major chains such as Borders shutting up shop as well as smaller book boutiques being run out of business.

The Vietnamese Paradox

However, a global issue might not necessarily be a Vietnamese issue. According to Waka, the largest online book library available in Vietnam, the number of published printed books numbered 67,000 copies in 2017, the highest on record since the last peak of 65,000 in 2015.

Of these published books, 93 percent were released in Vietnamese, with English books only making up 4% of the total figures. A majority of these were children's books and literature for adults.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

News of the decline in printed books sales and the death of bookstores in other developed countries might seem like a strange phenomenon to the Vietnamese. The sales figures of printed books in Vietnam show a different trend: sales are up.

The total revenue of printed books in 2017 was an estimated VND5.9 trillion, much higher than 2014’s VND4.92 trillion.

Resistance to Change

One reason for the phenomenon is that while e-books are becoming increasingly popular around the world and are showing huge potential for development in recent years, only 137 publications out of the nearly 26,000 released in Vietnam in 2017 became digital publications, according to statistics by the Department of Publishing, Printing and Issuing under the Ministry of Information and Communications.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

The number of published e-books have actually been on a steady decline with an estimated 635 releases in 2017, a huge drop from 2,774 in 2015.

Arguably, this is due to Vietnam’s publishing houses not giving enough attention and investment to developing applications that will enable users to read publications online or through a device. This indifference from the Vietnamese publishing industry towards e-books is probably the thread that’s keeping printed books on the shelf.

A Dying Habit

So while printed books still remain a part of life in Vietnam, the habit of taking time to savour what is read is slowly starting to fade with many opting to read content from their smartphones and tablets. Instead of reading books, many people prefer spending their time on social networks, with an estimated 36.75 million Vietnamese users in 2017. Some people are also turning to online games and films during their free time.

GIF source: giphy.com

According to a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2016, the average adult in the world reads four books a year, a drop from six books in the 2012 survey.

A survey done by Japan’s National Federation of University Co-operative Associations announced that more than half of Japanese university students do not read outside their required studies with about 53.1 percent of respondents admitting to never reading physical books.

Video source: Improvement Pill

According to Nhan Dan Online, the average Vietnamese reads 1.2 books a year, way below the global average which leads to a puzzling paradox - who’s buying all these paper books? Unfortunately, statistics have thus far given us no clues.

An Inevitable End?

Maybe the only reason books haven’t gone extinct in Vietnam is due to publishers still being skeptical of digital alternatives. However, times change and mindsets too, and it may only a matter of time before the global trend reaches Vietnam and paper books start to disappear.

booksImage source: c1.staticflickr.com

In the meantime, it is still not too late to visit a bookstore in Vietnam and enjoy turning the paper pages of a novel, if anything, to reminisce and to keep a part of what may soon be history.

Banner Image source: ibb.co

Where to Shop