Are picture books children’s books?—An interview with Júbilo 31 Books

04 2019 | Issue 32

Text/Jasper Hou

People often associate picture books with children’s books. They see them as books that are only for children. In Macao, there is a unique independent bookstore that mainly sells picture books, namely the Júbilo 31 Books. The bookstore’s owner Lin Hsiang Chun, on the other hand, believes that picture books are actually for adults. So why Lin is so passionate about picture books and what are the stories behind her independent bookstore? What makes Júbilo 31 Books so special? Let’s dive in and find out the stories behind.


Picture books are also for the grown-ups


Lin is from Taiwan. After finishing her postgraduate study in Guangzhou in 2006, she decided to move to Macao. The city has become her second home as she has already lived in Macao for 13 years. In 2015, she made the decision to depart from her nine-year career as a teacher and started Júbilo 31 Books. “Picture books are made of a lot of childhood memories. Readers from different walks of life can all relate to the stories in picture books,” Lin said. “This is why they attract readers.”


From Lin’s perspective, creators of picture books present their stories through drawings, which provide a stronger sensation than texts. That said, picture books can attract different groups of readers because they are relatively easier to understand. “In fact, there are many people who think through images. Many people would think that picture books are only for kids. It’s not true,” Lin explained. “The creators of the picture books are adults. Usually, the picture books paint the world of adults. To a large extent, picture books are for adults.”


Paying makes readers attentive


At present, the bookstore’s income mainly comes from selling books. There are quite a number of picture books in the store that published independently. Although there aren’t a lot of types of picture books for customers to choose from, the sales have been great. “Zine is a representation of the independent publications in the store. Independently published picture books became quite popular recently. I think it is probably because independent publishing is more direct and simple, giving creators more freedom to express themselves,” Lin said. “For an author, that is a very good way to present his or her ideas. Even though most of the picture books were painted by the authors themselves and therefore the production volume is quite low, I still think they have a bright future ahead.”


In addition, the bookstore also appeals to the public by organising activities. “We will organise activities to interact with our customers and appeal to a bigger crowd,” Lin explained. “For example, we will have reading clubs, discussions, story sharing sessions, book launch events, etc. that are related to picture books. We will also invite the authors to give a talk on their story ideas and concepts for the books, bringing them closer to the readers. Customers will have to pay a participation fee for most of the events. The price ranges from two hundred to three hundred. The money is not just about covering the operational cost for human resource and the venue. We set the participation fee in an attempt to make participants more attentive as well. It’s a way of showing respect to the guests of the events. Generally, free events can’t really keep the audience engaged.”


Local independent picture books enjoy great popularity among tourists


Júbilo 31 Books has collected many independent picture books from local authors in Macao. “Picture books from local authors mostly attract tourists because they believe the picture books are a representation of the local culture that showcases local stories, ideas and perspectives,” Lin said. “Buying them as souvenirs is an interesting option. They can look more into Macao through those publications. That’s why books from local designers are quite popular.”


We work with publishing organisations to get the books to our shelves most of the time since the publishers know more than us about the industry and have clearer visions of what kind of books we want. It’s easy for us to find publications that suit our bookstore’s positioning,” Lin said, explaining their book selection process. “There are a group of great publishing organisations in Macao. For instance, there are the Heritage Society, Root, Step Out, etc. Their unique works feature strong elements of urban design and city development. But they don’t set creative limits on their works. They are our long-term partners.”


Free publishing is usually the most costly


From Lin’s perspective, the publishing industry in Macao currently lacks an industrial chain that covers from content creation, design, printing, to marketing and promotion. But that also means the publishing market in Macao still has a lot of room for development. “The cost of publishing in Macao is very high because of the lack of professional publishing agencies. Content creators often need to spend a relatively higher cost to look for agencies in other regions to help out with the publishing process,” Lin said. “Often times, the government will provide a subsidy for content creators to publish their works. But for content creators, free publishing usually means their books are going to be very expensive. When there is a subsidy for publishing, the publishing cost becomes uncontrollable. And the publishing cost will determine the pricing of the published works. Then there aren’t going to be a lot of readers that are willing to pay that much money for those books, meaning it becomes harder to achieve profitability. However, most books that receive government subsidies don’t have to worry about the sales anyway. So gradually the market won’t really look at this matter from a business perspective. I think this is the issue that the publishing market in Macao really has to give more thoughts to!”

Júbilo 31 Books

R/C, Rua de S.Roque, No. 31, Macao