Home Insider Publisher, Agent, Distributor and Authorised Issuer of ISBN Numbers in Myanmar

Publisher, Agent, Distributor and Authorised Issuer of ISBN Numbers in Myanmar

Name: U Myo Aung

Job Title: Entrepreneur

Age: 53

Main Companies: Pyi Zone Publishing House,

Success International Publisher’s Distributor

Profession: Publisher, Distributor, Writer.

The Myanmar Insider: When did you start your first business in Myanmar, and is it still operational today? If so, how has the business model changed from when you first started?

U Myo Aung: My father was a high school teacher and we were not well off. My father encouraged me to learn English since I was very young. He also enrolled me for Burmese tuition classes since 8th standard. Hence, I have read both English and Burmese publications widely and extensively since a young age. I developed good writing skills, too. My first proper writing for publication was in 1989 when I wrote for Moe Wei Magazine, a short translated biography of Randy Travis, a celebrity. I started my writing career and, before long, I was already writing for Myanma Dana (a local business magazine), as a monthly featured writer. From 1992 to 1994, I was in Singapore. I attended a business school there. When I got back to Myanmar in 1994, I started to cooperate with Innwa Bookstore. Under Innwa operations, we started importing and distributing foreign publications, such as books, newspapers, etc., starting with Singapore papers from SPH (Singapore Press Holdings). Shortly after, we began distributing IHT (the International Herald Tribune), too. Towards the end of 2005, it ended up with Innwa Bookstore taking care of international magazines and me taking care of international newspapers, under a new entity, Success International Publisher Distributor Co Ltd. The model has not changed much since then. In April 2013, when the new Myanmar government allowed the publication of private newspapers, we also decided to print IHT locally. The IHT system is such that it is possible to print and make available every morning the same newspaper in 180+ countries. The actual printing of the first set of IHT in Myanmar was on September 25th, 2013. IHT became the International New York Times (INYT) on October 15th, 2013.

MI: What is your role as agent for the INYT in Myanmar?

MA: Quite simple, actually. I am responsible for printing, marketing and distribution of the INYT in Myanmar.

MI: Could you share with us the story of how you managed to link up with the internationally renowned newspaper?

MA: It started in 1994, when one international correspondent from IHT visited Myanmar, wanting to write about the country. Innwa Bookstore was given the opportunity by the government to bring him around Myanmar. In return for the permission, IHT started to provide free copies to senior officials within the government. 1995 was the famous “visit Myanmar” year. Hotels needed newspapers and we asked for permission to distribute IHT to these establishments and permission was granted by both the government and IHT.

MI: How did the previous press laws and lack of press freedoms affect the distribution of the INYT in Myanmar?

MA: Previously, the press was controlled via the 1962 Press Registration Act. Everything was reviewed and censored. Every single imported publication had to pass through the Press Scrutiny Department for approval. The news, articles or images of any kind that were against Burma were torn or cut from pages, resulting in many complaints by subscribers (foreigners). It got especially worse if the censored story was the cover story. Then the whole publication is not authorised for distribution. I remembered making thousands of losses compensating the subscribers and having to pay the publisher. In 2005, the Press Registration Department started to relax some controls, with lesser censorship rules. It was not until 2011 under the present new government that the whole censorship policy was abandoned. We currently do not have any censorship on any news. We just have to provide 12 copies of our publications daily to the Copyright and Registration Department.

MI: What are your plans to localise the INYT?

MA: Based on our agreement, I need to increase circulation, i.e., marketing. I also intend to form an editorial team under INYT supervision in six months time. The objective is to be able to put in two to four pages of local news within the main paper. Of course, we have to meet INYT editorial standards. This is part of our agreement.

MI: How does the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system work in Myanmar, and what is your role as the agent of ISBN here?MA: For Myanmar books to sell overseas, first we must meet the international standards. This requires every book to have an ISBN number. Actually, the issuing agent is the Myanmar Publishers and Book Sellers Association. I am the vice chairman there.MI: Other than the INYT and ISBN, what are your principal business activities?

MA: I have Pyi Zone Publishing to publish books. I decided against diversification, as I wanted to become a well respected professional in my field.

MI: As Myanmar was a closed country for almost 50 years, what are your thoughts on the new found press freedoms going forward?

MA: Having a responsible and vibrant media is the fourth pillar under our government approach to democracy and democratic reform, but we have to build it ourselves. We have now enormous freedom of press and speech under the new government. At the same time, there are lots of weaknesses in the media industry itself. Responsible media is not there yet. Ethical journalism is still a distant target; codes of conduct, press council ethics – we are still in infancy. We are supposed to provide constructive criticism to the government and bring evidence based news stories to the people, rather than the current state of affairs of some papers, printing hearsay stories and personal attacks for political gains.

MI: In your opinion, will the young generation be interested in print media? What is your strategy to counter the increasing popularity of online materials?

MA: Currently almost all print is in hard copy version for our publishers – the audience is moving to online media. The main issue that we face due to this is the copyright issue. When a book is published in the morning, it is being shared freely online by the evening. Both publishers and writers earned nothing. We are planning to officially put our books online; Myanmar publishers, a book sellers association and an internet wallet company through the use of payment engines, such as ipay and Mobile Money, to sell their books online.

MI: Do you see any of your main business interests having to change or adapt to Myanmar’s new trends and its opening up to international markets?

MA: We all have to prepare for the change. In fact, changes are already taking place. It is a matter of time before foreign publishers and distributors come in. We also have to be geared towards copyrights. The copyright law is coming in very soon. I have heard of some sectors calling for protectionist measures; for me, I think of cooperating with foreign parties for mutual benefits.

MI: With the benefit of hindsight, would you have done anything differently when you started, and if so, why?

MA: I would like to continue working – continue to publish and contribute back to society – I also want to continue learning and sharing knowledge. As such, I would love to have taken better care of my health previously.

MI: From a business perspective, what do you feel are the biggest challenges facing you or your organisation in Myanmar in the next one to three years?

MA: Change of mindsets, business structures and operations are required to adjust to teaming up with international players. I also feel that we need to ensure laws and regulations continue to operate well.

MI: How do you see Myanmar comparing with its Asian neighbours in the short and long term future?

MA: Many printers and publishers from Thailand, Singapore and even Vietnam are looking for local print jobs. They have better banking facilities for finance and better SME support. We have to be better in these areas to compete with them.

MI: If you could make one major change in the country, what would it be?

MA: We need to reduce red tape and increase the flexibility of doing business here. The government could move more into online mode, standardising rules and regulations, thereby reducing transaction costs for entrepreneurs.

MI: What advice would you give to publishers looking to distribute their printed materials in Myanmar?

MA: The key, I believe, is the distribution network. We need to combine publication with distribution strategy. The second point would be to cooperate, instead of compete, for industry development. There is a saying in Burmese: “Loke Ngan To Yan Thu Phit”, which means “people doing the same kind of business become enemies”. We want to avoid that and work together for industry development.