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At Nanmee, Suwadee is the sorcerer

This Harry Potter person has been a golden-egg-laying goose for everyone involved in publishing, and in Thailand, Nanmee Books appears to have benefited most from the magic.

Published on August 5, 2007



With exclusive rights to the Thai-language translations of JK Rowling's books, the company is celebrating its 15th anniversary wearing a mantel of power, confidence and capital. Business has boomed ever since the release of the first Potter adventure in 2000.

Nanmee was founded with a registered capital of Bt2 million. Now it's a Bt150-million empire with seven publishing affiliates under its wing.

Managing director Suwadee Chongsatitwattana is the first to offer a hallelujah for Harry.

"Our business has improved due in large part to the sales of the Thai translations of the Potter books - the series transformed the Thai publishing scene," she says, referring to the trend in local publishers buying the copyrights for foreign children's books.

Did luck shine on Nanmee? Not at all - Suwadee just knows her niches.

Raised in a Thai-Chinese family helping her father run a modest Chinese-language bookshop - still operating on Bangkok's Charoenkrung Road after 58 years - she delved into science at Chulalongkorn University.

That was in the 1970s, when students were pushing the democracy button, but Suwadee developed an ideology of her own: Her ambition was to promote science books as an integral part of national development.

"I believe science is key to becoming a developed society," she says. "We needed more science books on the market."

Nanmee Books struck out in that direction, importing and translating scientific books, mainly from Britain, before eventually launching into the realm of children's literature, a sleepy genre in the days before Potter. The children's publications still had a scientific element: Nanmee filled its shelves with fantasy and sci-fi tales.

"We struggled in the first five years," Suwadee says. "Science books were difficult to sell at the time."

In 2000, acting on a friend's advice, Suwadee decided to buy the rights to the Harry Potter series. The price for each book was estimated at Bt10 million, but Suwadee reckoned that the series was a hit in the UK, so they could do well translated into Thai.

They did indeed. More than a million copies of each of the first six have been sold, each volume generating between Bt50 million and Bt60 million. Suwadee sowed the profits into the children's magazine Lem Prode (Favourite) to encourage kids to read.

"I can tell you that the copyright fee for the seventh Potter book was more than Bt10 million," she says. "We now have an annual copyright budget of Bt150 million because we're still focusing on importing quality children's books."

The Potter books sell outlandishly, but Suwadee believes they could have done even better. More than 10 million copies of the first six books were sold in Japan and six million in Taiwan.

While expecting the final book's Thai translation to exceed targets, she knows that the Potter magic will soon dissipate like fairy dust. What's the next rabbit she'll pull from her magician's hat? Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series. It is, she says, "the next big thing".

And for her follow-up trick, Suwadee will swell the ranks of Thai children's-book authors. She plans to publish and promote works by local writers. A major fan of mysteries and sci-fi thrillers, she's just started assembling first-time authors with the help of her daughter Kim, Nanmee's vice-president.

With new writers and new directions in mind, Suwadee expects to lead Nanmee into the hearts of many more Thai youngsters.

Manote Tripathi

The Nation


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