Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Silkworm Books

Silkworm Books
Written by Soui Sananikone
Thursday, 04 October 2007
A recent company visit to the headquarters of Silkworm Books, located in the upscale Nimanhemin neighbourhood of Chiang Mai, revealed much more about its publisher and director, Ms Trasvin Jittidecharak, than merely competently printing books.

According to its website, Silkworm Books clearly states its mission encouraging the public to read Thailand, read South-East Asia and read Silkworm. Its emphasis on the Arts, Buddhism, Asia and South-East Asia, Short History series, Treasures from the Past series, Islam and South-East Asia, Thailand, Northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China reflects its links to the University Press.

Trasvin grew up surrounded by and enjoyed books of every kind as her family owns the Suriwong Book Center in Chiang Mai. Upon completion of her studies in the United Sates, she followed her ambition to establish and operate an international publishing house in her home town of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. In her youthful fervour, she thought that getting into and being successful in this highly competitive business would be easy and little did she realize the countless challenges lying ahead.

Since 1989, when Silkworm Books was first registered, Trasvin admits that the company has been on a slow though steady growth path. For Trasvin, her vocation of publishing books full time has been and still remains very educative, full of challenges, as well as rewarding in many aspects. “A publishing organization does not happen overnight, and there have been endless obstacles along the way. Publishing books and selling them in a country where English is a foreign language is not easy. The distributors and booksellers don’t read enough and a large part of the Thai market is still more interested in fashion and celebrity magazines than serious reading” she said.

The past fifteen years have witnessed her brainchild, a small publishing house based in provincial Chiang Mai, far from the considered action center in Bangkok, develop into an internationally recognized publishing identity with emphasis on academic and regional issues. The 290 titles published to date, all in the English language, focus primarily on topics pertaining to the history, politics, development studies and folklore of South-East Asia. Each title is carefully chosen by Trasvin with anticipation of a long shelf life and an average print runs less than 2,000 copies. It is considered a mild success if any title sells more than 500 copies per year. The very first publication Silkworm licensed was “Thailand: A short story” by the late professor David K. Wyatt, an authority of Thai history. The book was reprinted many times until the second edition was released in 2003. In 1995, the release of the widely popular “Thailand’s Boom” was followed in 1997 by “Thailand Boom and Bust”. Written by Dr. Pasuk Phongpaichit and Dr. Chris Baker, these two books dealt with issues of economic and political development, as well as in-depth information on all levels of the Thai society. These last two publications brought Silworm Books to the national and international levels as their contents contained highly necessary information sorely needed by diplomats, investors, and other professionals who worked in and with Thailand. The recent first foray into fiction, the “Father Ananda Mystery”series, written Nick Wilgus, a Bangkok based writer, have been translated into French and German and are doing surprisingly well both locally and internationally.

Many of Travin’s on-going challenges include dealing with the inflexible Book Trade Organization, finding top quality local printers with the correct appreciation of the complexities and intricacies of the trade, without having to travel to Hong Kong or Singapore and negotiating with less than co-operative distributors. She shares that “negotiating with some of the printing houses in Thailand tend to be much more problematic than, say, in Hong Kong. Many Thai companies aren’t very forthcoming with their knowledge of the industry -- just choosing the appropriate paper, the size of the pages, the quality of book covers can prove to be much more frustrating than necessary. It is not common knowledge that we would scrap the whole printing of any title due to sub-standard deficiencies that other less quality conscious outfit would accept.” She adds that due to regulations set by the BOI and antiquated immigration laws, her access to qualified foreign editors and translators is somewhat limited, causing many manuscripts delayed and withdrawn.

For Trasvin, measures of success may seem insignificant to others and far offset the headaches. A recent order of 50 copies from the Qartar Board of Education of “Short stories and Poems” by a SEAWRITE author was considered a major personal milestone. The imminent release of a luxurious coffee-table book of the past ‘Lao Royalty’ by Dr Grant Evans will be one of her highlights in 2008. “Though publishing this book will involve a substantial investment, I believe that we are not just preserving the Lao history but also our own. It will help us understand our neighbour’s history as well as finding out more about ourselves”, she added.

In 2006, in collaboration with the South East Asian Studies Regional Programme Foundation and funding of the Rockefeller Foundation, Trasvin launched the Mekong Press Foundation to encourage and support the works of writers and books published in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and the Yunnan Province in China. The Mekong Press aims to create a network among publishers in the region in order to strengthen and improve publishing standards and to enable local publishers to reach a wider readership. In her endless support of this endeavour, Trasvin has organized numerous book launches, workshops and book fairs. An Editing Workshop has also been set up in late October 2007 in Vientiane, Laos, as well as a Copyright Workshop in early December 2007 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Ms Trasvin Jittidecharak can proudly look back at starting Silkworm Books in 1989, printing her first title in 1991, and being the only employee until 1999. Her initial registered capital was 200,000 baht and currently stands at 4,000,000 baht. She is content to have reached the quality level attained by Silkworm Books and to have impacted her readership. She is involved regularly in book fairs in Bangkok and yearly attends international ones. The fact that she can financially support her staff and herself is also a great source of pride and stisfaction, though she insists that everyone at Silkworm remains underpaid.

With her parting remark that “I am fairly happy that at least Thais can publish. I cannot claim to represent Thailand but I can comfortably say that Chiang Mai now has a very reputable publishing house”, Ms Trasvin humbly summed up her remarkable achievement.

6 Sukkasem Road, Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200
Tel.: (053) 226 161 to 3
Fax: (053) 226 643
website www.silkwormbooks.info
E-mail: trasvin@silkwormbooks.info

Images of Silkworm Books
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