Litbeat and the Current Book Ecosystem

By: Fariq Alfaruqi

Who plays the biggest role in deciding the direction of Indonesian book ecosystem development? It would be easy to answer the question twenty years ago:  some big publishers and book stores, several printing companies with sophisticated tools, bunch of well-known writers. They were influential stakeholders in the realm of Indonesian book ecosystem in the past. Each of them had the capacity to determine the standard quality of a work, book trend, readers’ tastes, and even, writers’ royalties.  

But the current book ecosystem does not allow them to stay on the throne. It is no longer moving in linear direction according to a bunch of people with higher economic and symbolic capital. Now, a small indie publisher in South Tangerang has the chance to set a new standard or produce a brand new genre without having to follow the general quality established by major publishers. A small book store in Santa Modern Market can also provide alternative reading materials different from the general, dominating taste. A writer from outside Java may have the ability to form her own management team to control the flow of her book production and distribution, then obtain her success. 

There are other several examples which indicate how the current Indonesian book ecosystem is getting more dynamic, or even lateral. The old actors are still playing on the stage, but they should be willing to share their place or learn from the newcomers. Big-capital owners are still showing their faces, but small-capital owners will grab the public attention with their creativity and build their own market. 

This change actually does not only happened in the book world. An economist from a well-known university in Indonesia observed similar trend in other industries. According to him, it is due to the shift in consumption pattern from conventional to digital. The shift in fulfilling the daily needs, thanks to the development of information and communication technology, has changed the previous order of several industry fields, including book industry. In that sense, small and big publishers, famous and popular writers, are being in the same position. It means that each of them has the same opportunity to produce their works and reach their audience. 

The National Book Committee, with Litbeat Literaction Festival, is inspired by the fact that the current book ecosystem is not limited to the writing, publishing, and selling of books. The happening shifts and changes require the actors in book industry to make some experimentation and innovation. Litbeat provides a space for those actors to interact, exhange ideas, and share experiences in relation to their efforts in developing book ecosystem. 

Since its first establishment last year, Litbeat has offered several topics which are expected to describe some issues and the innovative solutions in the management of book ecosystem. The topics covered some elements which constituted the current book ecosystem. Some book actors with long experience and innovative ideas were invited to the event to discuss the selected topics. Litbeat Literaction Festival has been trying to present the topics in any possible form, from discussion panel, public lecture, workshop, exhibition, to performance. 

Last year, Litbeat was more focused on the flow of book production and distribution in digital era. The discussed issues ranged from manuscript hunting by editors on digital media platform, building book market strategy by considering digital algorithm, the packaging of book in current rapid, visually-crowded digital landscape, until the influence of digital technology to the use of paper and development of printing machine. 

Meanwhile, this year, the discussions covered the interrelation and integration of book ecosystem with the other creative industry ecosystem. For two days at The National Library of the Republic of Indonesia, the discussed topics include the adaptation of book into film, song and music into poem, the dissemination of books to some spaces in the city, the development of indie book ecosystem and its community, the manifestation of books in literary festivals, and others. 

For the last two years, the National Book Committee, with Litbeat Festival, has presented the total of 48 discussion topics, 129 speakers with various background in both domestic and abroad book worlds, and visited by more or less 2,500 guests. Litbeat does not aim at answering the question who plays the biggest role in deciding the direction of book ecosystem development today. Instead, it aims at bringing up new question: at what extent each book actor influences the development of the ecosystem as a whole?