JOYCE HOR-CHUNG LAU
The Hong Kong Book Fair, which draws as many as 900,000 visitors annually, opened Wednesday with a new element: a section on electronic publishing.
The weeklong event, the largest of its kind in the Chinese-speaking market, is still largely about selling print books, which are carted away in canvas sacks and rolling suitcases. But companies dealing in e-books and related media are trying to change that.
There were booths from more than 20 companies in the new “digital reading interactive zone.”
Hanvon, a Chinese company, was showing black-and-white devices similar to Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader. Retailing for 2,550 to 2,900 Hong Kong dollars, or about $330 to $370, each comes with some free titles in English or Chinese, according to Serene Chung, a representative who was showing crowds the electronic version of the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” a classic Chinese novel.
Jecomtech, a Hong Kong company, was showing a U.S.-made product called Onyx Boox that can operate in English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and a dozen other languages. Retailing for 2,980 Hong Kong dollars, it came with 1,000 titles.
“Some books, like beautiful design books, are still nicer in print,” said Martin Ke, a Jecomtech sales manager. “But I think e-books are going to grow. They’re convenient, they’re portable, and, some say, they are more environmentally friendly.”
Many companies were obviously preparing for the introduction in Hong Kong this Friday of Apple’s iPad tablet computer, which is seen as a rival to the simpler e-readers.
Kiwa Media, a New Zealand company, was showing QBook, an iPad application that converts children’s print books into multilingual, interactive digital versions.
Rhonda Kite, a company representative, clicked a screen with colorful cartoon characters to gain access to a pull-down menu offering English, Mandarin, Spanish, Italian and other languages. The text is automatically translated.
Readers can point at a written word and have the machine pronounce it. They can also use their fingers to color in the books’ illustrations.
“It’s very exciting,” said Ms. Kite, who added that it was her first time at the Hong Kong Book Fair. “Almost a million people will walk through these doors, and the entire population of my country is only four million.”
Mimio was one of the few electronically minded companies to have been at the book fair in past years.
This year, the U.S. company was showing products that could turn any flat surface into an interactive, digital whiteboard, thanks to a hookup between a projector and a wall-mounted instrument with Wi-Fi and ultrasound sensors. Mimio’s products are aimed at the education sector, long a major part of the book fair.
Leo Liu, senior Asia-Pacific regional manager for Newell Rubbermaid, the parent company of Mimio, connected the product to the wall of a cubicle and played with a Venn diagram about animals. (He could pull a picture of a tiger into the carnivore section and a deer into the herbivore section.)
“We have tailor-made content for various markets, like international schools in Hong Kong and Macao, plus mainland China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines,” Mr. Liu said. “In the next five years, Asia-Pacific governments will be spending an estimated $15 billion to convert traditional classrooms and blackboards into interactive ones.”
“This region is very technologically sensitive,” he said. “There is going to be a huge jump in demand in Asia.”