Published on July 4, 2007
In 2003 the Education Ministry reckoned that kids were reading on average just seven lines a day, and then cheerfully reported two years later that the number was up to almost eight.
Sasakorn Wattanasuttiwong, an editor at Jamsai Publishing, thinks there must be something wrong with those figures.
"That may be true for some groups, but from what I see kids in general are reading a lot more than that," she says.
Jamsai, the country's leading purveyor of teen romance fiction, with those colourful, Japanese-style cartoon covers, is always the favourite among youngsters at the annual International Book Fair at the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre.
And the kids don't buy one or two books - they buy a stack.
The puppy-love plots of these books are designed to wrench little hormone-crazed hearts. "Yai Virgin Rag Nag Playboy", a huge seller, is about a teenage girl doing her best to avoid liking the popular boy in her class.
"It hits you right in the heart!" says Pichaya Sompansatib, a 12-year-old with a cabinet-full of Jamsai titles at home. But, she adds, "Jamsai books are fun."
The emotional roller coaster is part of the appeal that gets kids buying the Jamsai releases around age 12 and keeps them enthralled all the way through high school.
"Some books make me cry, like Guiyeoni's," says Atitha, referring to one of the best-known authors, "but others make me smile a lot. There's a charm in the stories that makes me want to go away somewhere with the characters in them."
Fans' "reviews" like this flood in to the Jamsai website, which claims 100,000 subscribers, as do readers' own imaginative love stories.
Jamsai published 160 titles last year, usually in editions of 2,000 each, but the hot releases have sold up to 50,000 copies, a rare achievement for Thai books.
Their popularity spurs many young Thais to write their own love stories. Sasakorn says the firm has about 56 authors, some as young as 15 and several who have their own fan clubs.
Among the most popular, 24-year-old Pilaimas Khamchoo - who signs her books "Stampberry" - and Monsineedhorn "Oresia" Wongkhachornkit, 23, are a study in contrasts.
Stampberry can write laugh-out-loud funny stories with a sassy touch, while Oresia's stories are sweet and heart-rending, sure to leave the readers in tears.
Stampberry's recent "Jab Nai Wai Rai Ma Rab Chai Khun Noo" is about a spoiled young woman who captures a man to be her slave, a turn of the table from the usual victimisation of women.
Her secret to selling well?
"If you try to feed kids too much morality, they won't read it," she says, "I just put little thoughts in, such as having only the bad guys speak rudely - and they end up dying in hell."
The books can teach teenagers about love even before they experience the real thing. Maytita, 12, is a Jamsai addict, buying at least one new title every month.
Asked about her favourite books and authors, she launches into a long story about two mismatched people being forced into marriage. They fight all the time until one day the woman discovers she has heart disease and everything changes.
"Love isn't something to be taken lightly," Maytita says wisely.
How does Jamsai evaluate the stories that readers submit?
"We look at the emotional content," says Sasakorn. "If it makes us cry or laugh, and if we see you really made an effort to put a joke in there, then we'll publish it."
Oresia is a part-time writer, but Stampberry relies on her book sales for a living. She might get an idea at 4am and has to get it written down, but for the most part she can fill her hours as she wishes.
Sasakorn believes that youngsters are not only reading more, their tastes are getting more sophisticated. That's why Jamsai is planning to branch out into other genres, and with different brands.
"We're sure there are a lot of readers who want to read different kinds of book," she says, "but Jamsai will always have its fans."