Since Armour Publishing celebrated their 25th birthday this September, we reached out to director Christina Lim to chat about how the organisation has evolved over the years and has tackled challenges in the industry while staying true to itself.
What are your thoughts about ebooks, their rise in popularity in the West, and their relative lack of traction in Asia?
E-books is an area that I was initially reluctant to go into but I have since come to embrace the idea that different forms appeal to different people and it is a format that cannot be ignored in today’s world. From what I’ve read is that the e-book sales in the UK and US have been phenomenal, sales have been well into the millions of dollars. Recent news talk about a slowdown in e-book sales but this might be a temporary slide. However we have to remember that we are talking about countries with large population sizes and they are book readers. In Asia, the combined populations are also large and a McKinsey & Company report shows 165 million households with consumer spending power by 2013 in ASEAN.However, book reading is not as great and publishers are generally unsure of whether to move into e-books. (I can’t get more recent stats)
Tell us a little about Armour Publishing. How has the organisation changed over time, and what is your vision moving forward?
Armour started in 1991 with an aim to publish books with good values. We were ambitious and published several genres all at the same time – mainly adult titles including family, parenting, self help, business, management and inspirational. We did little children’s books then but Joy Cowley’s ‘Well Being’ Series showed us how a well-written and well-illustrated series can sell for a long time. We have since published more children’s titles. I think life was simpler 25 years ago when the internet was just coming into its own. Publishing was much more enjoyable and we could breathe much more. We were also smaller – just two of us – and we had to do everything on our own. From editorial, to production to selling and delivery! Today with a slightly larger team, we have become more job focussed. We see ourselves continuing to publish books with good values that will meet needs. We want to be relevant and purposeful in what we publish.
What are the major challenges being faced by the publishing industry? What potential do you see for growth and innovation?
The challenges that are faced include the increasing competition with more players in the market and the rise of self publishing and e-publishing. Publishers are also businesses and the challenge is to stay financially sound. In Singapore, it is increasingly hard to hire the right people to fill vacancies due to changes in manpower policy. Businesses are faced with rising operational costs. There are always opportunities around but finding that gap is a skill that one has to develop; and you also need individuals with acumen to take that project on.
Some of your titles are now available in ebook format. Could you share why you decided to go digital with your content? Do you plan to have ebook versions for more of your books as well?
About five years ago, MDA spearheaded an initiative to help local publishers covert some of their books into e-books. After that exercise we decided that we would convert 50 of our titles into e-books. We needed to see if there is a market for e-books. The returns have not been great but perhaps we are on the wrong platform! We are since learning that e-books have to be managed and not just left to ‘sell’ by itself. Yes we would like to convert more of our books into e-books.
Do you think the market in Singapore is ripe for the uptake of ebooks? What factors do you think would contribute to its popularity?
I think some sectors are more ready than others as are some readers are more willing to buy e-books. I think price, subject matter and the popularity of the writer.
What do you think authors can do to get their books the visibility that they need?
Authors have to work harder to get their books noticed such as write their own blogs, have a Facebook page, and get onto other e-platforms where they can share about their interests, writing etc. Participate in public events such as talks, creative story telling sessions, be part of writers groups etc.
In your experience, what can authors do to help their manuscript become a successful book?
For a manuscript to become successful, authors really need to have strong writing skills and organise their content well. They also need to know the audience they are writing for, and write on a compelling topic that is of interest to the reader.
Finally, Armour Publishing celebrated 25 years in the industry in September! How did you celebrate this milestone?
We celebrated by having one month of sales in September and we have interviewed some of our authors on their writing journey and it’s available on our website. We are also having a ‘The Passionate Pen’ Writers One Day Workshop on 15 Oct 2016 on memoir writing.