In Thailand, according to the latest available figures for the first quarter of 2014, mobile telephone subscriptions outnumbered landlines by more than 15 to 1. Among 18-24 year olds, daily Internet access is now nearly a universal habit, and Thais make up the third largest population of Facebook users in the world.
A more digital nation is difficult to find.
Yet when it comes to digital publishing in the national language, Thailand confronts a challenge over one thousand years old: Thai has a unique written script, with 44 consonant letters and 15 vowel symbols. Unlike for languages that have adopted the Roman alphabet, the move from print to digital can be daunting.
“For Thailand, because we have our own alphabet, it’s very complicated,” explains Trasvin Jittidecharak, founder of Silkworm Books, based in her hometown of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. “For Vietnamese or Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malay that use the Roman alphabet, to transform into digital books, it’s easier. This [difficulty] also applies for the Myanmar (Burmese) language, Cambodian, and Laotian.”
Around the globe, and especially in developing economies, the explosion of smartphone technology has led to the rise of self-publishing as a do-it-yourself distribution channel for self-expression and information. Jittidecharak currently sits on the Executive Committee of the International Publishers Association (IPA), where her experience adds an important measure of perspective.
“At the previous IPA Congress in Bangkok, we were debating whether self-publishing should be an issue, and I said that this will be of interest to the Thai audience, because we have been doing it for, I don’t know, since I was born half a century ago,” Jittidecharak said with a good-natured smile.
“In the States and in the UK, self-publishing has become significant in the past five years. But in our part of the world, because the publishing system and the distribution system [has not always been] that strong, people self-publish all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” she told CCC’s Chris Kenneally at the recent Digital Book World Conference.