At Penguin UK’s headquarters at 80 Strand this morning, chairman and CEO John Makinson presented a group of journalists with an overview of the company’s global business, offering commentary and observations from five of its international divisions. The big picture: Penguin is reaching far and wide, especially into developing countries.
Jo Lusby, general manager of Penguin China, told those gathered around the 10th floor conference room table that in the past, Penguin China had been selling books to about 5% of China’s population, those who have been university educated and live in cities. But that’s starting to change now, as Penguin goes beyond the 40,000 English-speaking expats living in China: it is now targeting the Chinese people. The books it’s done best with so far have tended to be aspirational backlist titles like Who Moved My Cheese? and books in the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series. Those kinds of books “sell forever” in China, said Lusby. China’s children’s market is also different from the U.K. and U.S. in that the books that sell well are often educational in nature, since Chinese parents don’t only read for pleasure with their children—they read to educate.
Mike Bryan, president and CEO of Penguin Books India, gave some perspective on India’s conservative reading tastes. P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew take up “massive amounts of shelf space” in India, although “attitudes are changing a bit,” he said. Indian readers are starting to develop an appetite for books that “explain a complicated world,” such as books by Thomas Friedman and Malcolm Gladwell, both of whom can sell around 50,000 copies in India’s English-language market. Bryan said piracy is a problem in India, with vendors selling illegal copies of books at stoplights and on sidewalks. Raids and confiscation have helped, and even local police stations became involved in cracking down on the sale of pirated copies of the Harry Potter books. “There were bobbies on the street,” noted Bryan.
The breakfast also included reports from David Davidar, CEO and publisher of Penguin Group Canada, who said last year was Penguin Canada’s best year ever. Gabrielle Coyne, CEO of Penguin Group Australia, and Alison Lowry, CEO of Penguin Books South Africa, also spoke about their respective markets.
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