In most parts of Asia, wizardry and fantastical plots have lost much of their magic after dominating the bestseller list for so long. The subsequent vampire and werewolf fever is, by comparison, not as rabidly welcomed in certain territories. As for that wimpy kid, well, his popularity suffers somewhat as Asian kids have different school life and growing-up problems. Still, these imported blockbusters have spurred local writers to produce longer fiction for children and helped boost a hitherto weak YA market.
Overall, picture books—local and translated—remain a big game this side of the world. And while rights agencies used to go after European and American publishing houses for both exports and imports, more deals are now inked with neighbors instead. China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, for instance, represent newer markets that are seeking more (and newer) content, but are reluctant to spend big bucks on American or European titles. Both cultural and geographical proximity are tipping the balance in favor of regional rights trading.
Asians' obsession with academic excellence makes educational picture books an easier sell. In this regard, Korean publishers have a stranglehold, with their ability to turn complex topics into accessible and entertaining edu-comics. Just check out some of the multivolume series published by Kyowon, YeaRimDang, Woongjin ThinkBig, and Daesan. Over in Taiwan, picture books continue to be big sellers for both import and export. Interestingly, since both the Taipei and Seoul book fairs had France as the guest country last year, French titles are enjoying a revival in these territories. Sales of Korean and Taiwanese children's titles to French publishers also saw an uptick.
Across the straits, in Japan, manga remains hot. But now there is a new Japanese category attracting neighboring countries: light YA novels in various genres such as romance, thriller, and adventure. China is still receptive to new ideas, titles, and authors from countries far and near. Its children's segment is expanding and going beyond material with educational value. Picture books have a bigger audience than before, and the quality of titles in the marketplace has improved significantly.
At the same time, digitization is making inroads into most publishing programs. A few of the established houses—Kodansha, Kyowon, and Grimm Press, for instance—have started turning original print titles into dynamic and interactive multimedia content. And one of the surer ways into consumer pockets is to create game-based apps that appeal to a wider age group than the print product.
For more on what is selling, stagnant, or shifting in Asia, PW talks to several rights agencies and publishers for the lowdown on the industry in different territories.
Mainland Chinese publishers are much more open to children's and YA titles than in the past, says cofounder/executive director Luc Kwanten of Shanghai-based Big Apple Agency. "Ten years ago, when we first introduced picture books, advances were no more than $500 per title, and the books sold at around $1 each. Parents balked at the price, and publishers shunned the genre due to the lack of profit." Things started changing two years ago when inflation rose, standards of living improved, and Chinese children's book publishers revised their cost structure. At the same time, more parents have begun to realize the benefits of reading from a young age, and these factors have caused significant expansion in the picture books market, with various publishers establishing a children's books division. "Still, each book must go through a thorough selection process prior to rights purchase," adds Kwanten, noting that "titles that are politically correct by American standards have a limited market in China, while award-winners are always easier to sell. Single titles receive less attention than series, while YA novels are popular with publishers because the printing cost is lower than for picture books."
Currently, picture books and YA titles retail at $3 to $4.50 in China. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi's Toto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window has been a bestselling YA title for more than 20 years. Other bestsellers—besides the usual favorites, Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Wimpy Kid series, from the U.K./U.S.—are titles by Christian Jolibois (France) and Thomas Brezina (Austria).
For now, v-p Wendy King says, "Publishers still rely on the subject matter and book thickness to judge a book. The general perception is that thicker is better, but there is a limit to how thick the book should be. Chinese publishers also consider bilingual editions to be important, and their decision making is heavily influenced by the title's potential for classroom use and its adoption by local kindergarten teachers. This bilingual preference extends to YA titles as well. Esme Raji Codell's Sahara Special, for instance, is one of those YA titles with bilingual rights."
About 15% of Big Apple Agency's children's/YA business comes from China, but the figure has been growing steadily. "In 2010, we renewed the contracts for Catcher in the Rye for both China and Taiwan, and signed the Hunger Games series and Catherine Fisher's Incarceron. Our focus is mostly on representing foreign authors and publishers in China. As for Chinese originals, we sold the Ma Xiaotiao series to HarperCollins several years ago, and we are now actively representing Trevor Lai, a picture book author and illustrator."
Promoting books through social media such as discussions, blogs, and author/book presentations is a recent development at Tulika Books. "We are able to take our titles internationally and position them as multicultural works much more effectively through YouTube and Slideshare," says publisher Radhika Menon, who has also gone into little-known genres such as creative nonfiction. The team is now working on an illustrated picture book with folk artist Kalyan Joshi—known for his colorful paintings on long cloth scrolls—and illustrator/filmmaker Nina Sabnani.
Meanwhile, two Tulika titles have gone digital, with Runaway Peppercorn in e-book for iPad and Who Will Rule? as an iPhone/iPad app. But digital sales remain negligible. "We grow through distribution to bookstores, schools, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Given the current attention to building school libraries in both rural and urban areas, the demand is growing for books in various Indian languages [there are 22 regional languages]. That's good for us, as we are one of the few presses that publish in nine languages, including English."
There is much interest in contemporary Indian themes both in text and pictures, and the view that only folk stories and mythology make good Indian books is slowly changing. For the YA segment, Menon sees growth in Indian chick lit titles and quite a few imported YA titles. "This segment tends to be influenced by trends in the West, and big publishing houses usually capitalize on that to push imports." Still, she was surprised to see that imported titles make up nearly 90% of the children's bestseller list. "We don't have a regular bestseller list here, and bookstore sales are hardly indicative of the industry. In reality, local books sell well and are the top-sellers—Tulika titles included—and they are mostly sold outside the bookstore channel."
Menon's bestselling titles exported in 2010 include Ismat's Eid (sold to Marshall Cavendish), I Am Different (Charlesbridge Publishing and S. Fisher Verlag), and What Shall I Make (Frances Lincoln and Tricycle Press). "We are working on several major titles such as Stitching Stories—based on Nina Sabnani's award-winning film, The Stitches Speak—which looks at the evolution of narrative art through embroidery, and Alauguti Talauguti, a compilation of songs and rhymes in 20 Indian languages. Then there is Advaita the Writer, a paperback fiction by Australian writer Ken Spillman."
Selling rights for foreign children's/YA titles is an uphill battle. "Fewer titles are being published in recent years. And even if an editor likes a particular book, there is no budget for it," says Solan Natsume, senior agent for the children's division at Tuttle-Mori Agency. "Manga is a strong rival to YA romances for girls or adventure and thrillers for boys. Paranormal stories that are so successful in the rest of the world did not work in Japan, although the genre is very popular in manga. Moreover, Japanese children simply do not read long stories. The observation of many editors is that 250 pages are too long for middle-graders, and 300 pages too much for young adults. But it is quite tough to find shorter titles that are good enough. So although publishers keep saying that they want good middle-grade fiction, the market remains weak." Not surprisingly, there is currently no translated children's or YA title on the bestseller list.
Still, Tuttle-Mori signed about 100 children's/YA titles last year. The sequel to Winnie the Pooh, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, was one of the big titles. Others include the Kane Chronicles, Heroes of Olympus series, and Trash. The team also sold The Lonesome Puppy (to Chronicle Books, USA), Who's Behind Me (Albin Michel), a Tezuka Moderno board book (Edition Glenat), and Minipop series (Casterman Jeunesse).
"We do quite a lot of e-book deals for adult books, but not for children's titles, because the market is not yet developed," adds Makiko Takeuchi of the children's book division. "There is a lot of interest in what is going on with various e-reading devices and platforms, and we, like others in the book industry, are researching and exploring what could, and would, work."
Character licensing has been slow as well, says Takumi Nakayama, who handles Moomin and Elmer merchandise. "Recent hits are original properties such as Usavich—a CGI comedy created and distributed by MTV Japan—and Kuma No Gakko and Kobito Zukan, which are based on local picture books. Industry-watchers have noted that Japanese publishing is getting reclusive, as far as character licensing is concerned.
For president and CEO Yurika Yoshida of the Japan Foreign-Rights Centre, the focus is on selling Japanese originals. Last year, she signed 480 deals, and "sales to China were significantly higher than in previous years. We sold not just preschool picture books but also game books, edu-comics and fiction to publishers such as Jieli, 21st Century, ThinKingdom, Shanghai Juvenile & Children's Publishing House, and China CITIC Press."
JFC represents around 15 Japanese publishers and will exhibit some 150 titles in Bologna. Among the major titles is 12-volume Milky Sugiyama: Private Eye for eight-year-olds and up, a series that has sold more than 760,000 copies. "Another successful series for the same age group is Fair, then Partly Piggy by Shiro Yadama. The first of this nine-volume series appeared 30 years ago in Japan and was a big success, with total sales exceeding 3.5 million copies." Then there is 32-page Haru and the Little Rabbit picture book by Chiaki Okada, who was among those selected for the 2010 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. Overall, more than half of JFC's business comes from the children's/YA segment. "In 2010, we sold Komako Sakai's Mad at Mommy to Arthur A. Levine and 100 in Total, a 24-page game-based picture book by Masayuki Sebe, to Kids Can Press. Then there is Play All Day, a big playbook that Chronicle Books created by combining two Taro Gomi titles. This title has gone back for a third printing since its 2010 launch in the U.S.," adds Yoshida, pointing out that in Japan some perennial sellers have gone through more than 100 reprints.
And speaking of e-books, she notes, "The Japanese copyright law is fundamentally intended to protect authors' rights and property, and not to promote publishers' rights and activities. Current contracts are literally permissions granted by authors to publishers to allow them to produce the books in print. Now with e-books in the picture, publishers and authors would have to find a new standard agreement that can work for both sides, and one that would not jeopardize the print version and its sales."
For Kaisei-sha, 100 is a lucky number: two of its series based on 100 have struck gold with many overseas publishers. "Masayuki Sebe's activity book 100 in Total, for instance, teaches counting up to 100 through fun stories that are brightly illustrated in bold colors, and has been sold to 10 countries including Canada, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. His latest, 100 Animals on Parade, was bought by Paris-based Mango Editions immediately upon publication last year," says Yuko Nonaka, who is in charge of foreign rights. "I'm planning to promote Toshio Iwai's A House of 100 Stories and An Underground House of 100 Stories at the upcoming Bologna. More than 820,000 copies, including the large-format kindergarten editions, have been sold, and over in Taiwan they are ranked #1 and #3 on Books.com.tw."
Another big-name author on Nonaka's Bologna list is Taro Miura, who has been published by Editions Corraini (Italy), Media Vaca (Spain), and Chronicle Books (U.S.), and whose recent offering, The Tiny King, was launched in June. Next is Akiko Miyakoshi's The Tea Party in the Woods, which garnered lots of attention at Frankfurt 2010. "We reprinted it one month after its release, and sales have exceeded 10,000 copies." On the fiction side, Nonaka has sold the Milky Sugiyama: Private Eye series to China, France, and Taiwan. As for Kaisei-sha's most famous titles, YA series Moribito, picking up the Batchelder Award two years running for its first two volumes has been good for rights sales: it is now available in eight languages including English, French, and Spanish. In translations, last year Kaisei-sha published several American bestsellers including Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Alabama Moon, and Dear Genius. "For 2011, we are planning to publish Eric Carle's 1972 title, Walter the Baker. We find his titles fresh and the themes universal, and we will keep introducing the backlist to Japanese children."
Nonaka adds: "It is fair to say that the American and British bestseller lists always have brand new titles and movie tie-ins, while the Japanese list usually includes classics and perennial sellers that may have been published back in the 1970s. In fact, local distributor Tohan publishes a Million-Book catalogue that lists children's titles with sales upwards of one million copies each, and many parents and grandparents use this catalogue as a buying guide. Such titles will continue to sell well in the years to come." Japanese children, according to Nonaka, have not developed the habit of reading e-books or turning to mobile content yet. "It will take a while longer, but we are closely monitoring developments."
Over at Kodansha, Setsuna, a spinoff of Nahoko Uehashi's The Beast Player Erin was the biggest title last year. It has sold 92,000 copies, while the main series is now available in several languages including Chinese, French, German, Korean, Swedish, and Thai. The first volume in the series has already been turned into an iPhone/iPad app, and more e-books and mobile apps are in the works, says children's book publisher Eisuke Otake: "Our editorial team is currently converting the 200-odd titles of the Aoitori series—our most successful program for middle-grade readers—into e-books. At the same time, we are looking into the possibility of publishing certain picture books solely in e-book format." Obviously, to facilitate e-publishing, Otake wants digital rights to be included in every contract, but "different authors have different opinions on these emerging formats, and we have to follow their wishes so as not to jeopardize the relationship of mutual trust."
Speaking of licensing, Otake finds that another advance payment upon contract renewal is becoming standard practice: "Extension used to be a matter of signing a new agreement without any advance. To us, the current practice is an obstacle to long-term sales." He also sees more companies launching big children's collections, something similar to Aoitori (which goes back to 1980). "But given the overcrowded bookstore shelves, I don't think this is a good time to start such publishing programs."
The children's segment contributes barely 5% to Kodansha's total sales. (Bear in mind, though, that this publisher, #17 on the global industry list, has a massive adult and nonfiction list.) Marcus Pfister's Rainbow Fish remains its biggest seller 18 years on, with 2010 sales exceeding 15,000 copies. The #2 and #3 bestsellers, Aoitori: Anne of Green Gables and Aoitori: The Three Musketeers respectively, come from middle-grade series; both of these 280-page full-length novels with manga-style illustrations have sold more than 12,000 copies each. This year, aside from anticipating a new picture book by France-based illustrator Satomi Ichikawa, Otake is busy with a new reference book/DVD series that he considers "an epoch-making project, as it will include clips from archival films made available by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK."
A glance at Kyobo Bookstore's children's bestseller list (for February 14–20) reveals the dominance of originals. Four of the top 10 titles are edu-comics—attesting to the strength of local publishers in this highly specialized genre. Bicycle Thief by recently deceased novelist Wansuh Park heads the list. Alice in Wonderland is #2 after the book appeared in one Korean hit soap opera (which influences the purchasing decisions of stay-at-home moms). Only one other translated title (from Japan) makes the list.
In general, Korean publishing has been quite dismal in recent years. But the future of e-books looks positive. With Samsung leading the way with Galaxy Tab and scores of other e-book readers jumping on the bandwagon, there has been much excitement about this platform. Given that Korea has among the highest Internet and mobile penetration in the world (around 80% and near 100% respectively) and almost 22% for smartphones, digital publishing is set to flourish.
Kyowon is one of the companies moving fast into this segment. Capitalizing on the success of Aesop's Theater is a no-brainer, with its 39-episode 3D animation that sold 45,000 sets domestically and now available in 30 countries. Last November, Kyowon launched an iPhone/iPad app based on the first episode, and it became the #1 download. "Our e-contents team is currently working on adapting another bestselling series, the 50-volume Animated Fairy Tales of the World, into similar apps," says international rights manager Park Sooyoung.
For Park, the above series were some of his biggest 2010 exports, which also include the 42-volume Word Farm, sold recently to China and Taiwan. As for domestic sales, Let's Play with Geography reigns supreme, with over 45,000 sets. This 31-volume series involved illustrators from different parts of the world to make the subject matter fun and culturally diverse for children aged five to 10. Its first-day sales of 10 billion won, or nearly US$9 million, were a company record. Another series, Kyowon Talmud, teaches children 15 key values using Jewish wisdom and has sold more than 39,000 sets since its September launch. Let's Play with Korean History and Greek and Roman Mythology, with 37,000 and 36,000 sets sold respectively, are also high on the bestsellers list.
Ranked #40 on the global publishing industry list, Kyowon is known for its strong door-to-door sales and the ability to turn multivolume educational series into blockbusters. For 2011, new initiatives are in place to further drive sales and strengthen its brand name. More than 63 illustrated series are now under a new imprint called All Story, and an editorial team of university professors and education experts has been engaged to work on several big pictorial reference series that will impress readers with specially commissioned photographs. Adds Park, "We launched a new company logo back in November 2008 and set the goal of growing current sales from US$1 billion to $3 billion by 2015. To achieve this, our publishing division plans to release a new series—with 20 to 60 titles—every month for the next few years."
A multicultural population of Malay, Chinese, and English speakers has created a unique publishing industry. "There are no official statistics on local translations, but I expect it to be below 10%," says managing partner Linda Tan-Lingard of Kuala Lumpur–based Yusof Gajah Lingard Agency. "The fragmented market means that books are imported instead of translated. For instance, the Korean graphic novels available here are in Chinese, and they are shipped directly from China."
Big translations include Indonesian bestsellers, Harry Potter, and Twilight, and Japanese manga such as Doraemon. Recent bestseller slots are taken up by Mr. Midnight (an English-language horror series from Singapore) and locally published Dear Yayah in Malay. Official statistics show that 16,000 titles were published in the country in 2008, half of which were school textbooks and children's titles in equal proportions. Tan-Lingard sums it up succinctly: "English books are imported, Malay bestsellers are written locally, while blockbusters are tween titles. In general, a Malay bestseller may sell upwards of 20,000 copies, whereas print runs for English and Chinese titles range from 3,000 to 5,000."
Interest and awareness in rights trading is mounting, notes Tan-Lingard. "This year marks the third Trade and Copyright Centre, to be held in conjunction with the more consumer-oriented Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair, which runs from April 22 to May 1. A much bigger turnout is expected, as local publishers are looking for more titles for Malay editions while at the same time producing better quality books for exports." There are many ways in which publishers can leverage their intellectual property, she adds. "The bubbling local animation industry offers tremendous licensing opportunities, as we have talented artists who have been producing great works for international companies such as the Cartoon Network, Marvel, and Nickelodeon."
The agency's biggest names are director/cofounder Yusof Gajah, winner of the 1996 Noma Concours for The Real Elephant (hence the company name and unique olifant logo) and Gourmand World Cookbook award–winner Mohana Gill. Discussions for Korean and Chinese rights are underway for Yusof's works, while Gill's children's series, Hayley's Vegemania Garden, is being considered for Chinese translation. The 16-month-old agency also represents French comic book publisher Glenat (the Little Prince series) and the Malaysia National Institute of Translation. "We have branched out into the adult segment and now offer more than 100 titles from 14 authors and illustrators."
In total, about 45% of children's titles, including textbooks, in the Philippines are originals, says purchasing consultant Abdon Balde Jr., of National Bookstore, the country's largest chain. "Sometimes, preschool books may appear original, but they are near-duplicates of American material, with words substituted with Filipino equivalents. Bestsellers at our stores are those featuring characters from Nickelodeon and Disney TV shows. In general, original Filipino titles are mostly fables, legends, and translated classics. There are also some attempts to create books to help preserve Philippine cultural heritage." On the bestselling imports list are familiar names: the Twilight series, Percy Jackson series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Heroes of Olympus, Fallen series, and the Vampire Diaries.
Last year, with the launch of the National Children's Book Awards, children's literature was finally accorded its own place. "But the children's book industry is not where we would like it to be. For the 2010 awards, we accepted 131 nominations that included titles published in the previous two years. There are simply not enough titles for an annual event. A longer interval between the awards would allow a wider selection and better promotion of winning works," says Andrea Pasion-Flores, executive director of the National Book Development Board. "There is still much to do to promote original works in this country, but compared to, say, 20 years ago, there are definitely more children's publishers in town. And that is healthy competition for the development of better books."
Among those that specialize in children's books are Adarna House, Lampara, Bookmark, Tahanan, Vibal Publishing (with special imprints LG&M and JTW), and Goodwill. "Most publishers produce bilingual Filipino-English titles, as these are our official languages. There are also publishers doing bilingual titles in regional languages. But finding good writers and editors to do such material is a challenge. It would be wonderful, however, to allow more children in the regions to read in their own language. The new education policy requiring instruction in mother tongues until third grade will do much to encourage publishers to produce quality titles."
As for the YA segment, Pasion-Flores says, "There is Cacho Publishing with titles such as Perpilili Tiongson's I Hate My Mother and Candy Gourlay's Tall Story, which is published internationally by Oxford-based David Fickling. Summit Publishing does chick lit, while PsiCom specializes in ghost and crime stories. A few others produce more mainstream titles, and at least one university press has a collection of stories for young adults." Selling rights for both children's and YA titles, she adds, "is in the early stage, and more efforts are certainly required to promote Philippine titles. But we will get there in the near future."
The success of Harry Potter and Twilight has opened the YA market in Taiwan, says executive director Luc Kwanten of Big Apple Agency. "We handled Trash and City Dog, Country Frog last year as well as series such as the Immortals and Paddington Bear. Japanese and Korean titles are also popular in Taiwan, while some publishers are seeking works from northern European countries such as Norway and Sweden." The declining birth rate in Taiwan is a concern to children's book publishers, he adds. "Parents here are more willing to buy books at higher prices for their only child, but sales are generally down. Publishers now need to be more selective in finding the best products that will get parents to open their wallets. For teenagers, if they have time to read something not related to school books or manage to get away from computer games, they are pretty much open to all kinds of books."
Taiwan publishers also like to do bilingual editions, adds v-p Wendy King. "Educational value is an important aspect for publishers and rights agencies to consider. Most parents still think that reading should not be solely for fun but also for educational purposes, such as learning English."
Over at Bardon-Chinese Media Agency, one-third of its 2010 business (covering Chinese language editions and English language reprints) comes from the children/YA segment. And among the 1,000-plus signed contracts, familiar names abound. The Twilight series, for instance, was sold to Sharp Point Press in Taiwan and Jieli Publishing in China, whereas Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You went to Hsinex International for both territories. Percy Jackson & the Olympians and the Magic Tree House series are other top titles that have been successfully introduced there.
"We started this agency in Taipei in the early 1990s and launched our Beijing operation 11 years or so ago. Presently, the mainland Chinese market accounts for more than half of our total business," says director Yu-Shiuan Chen, who likens Bardon's role to that of a professional matchmaker putting overseas authors and local readers together. "The goal is to always maintain a professional service. And even in a growing segment or market, our focus is on finding ways to meet the needs of local publishers while working on expanding our market share. For us, both Taiwan and China are equally important markets."
This year, Chen is looking forward to signing President Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing, the multimedia edition of The Little Prince, and Tish Rabe's Cat in the Hat's Learning Library series. "Throughout the years, our agency has been credited with introducing famous works by American authors—Meyer, Silverstein, and Byrne among the recent names—and those from Japan, such as Tetsuko Kuroyanagi of the Totto-Chan fame and Toshio Iwai." In fact, Iwai's A House of 100 Stories and An Underground House of 100 Stories as well as Sandol Stoddard Warburg's I Like You—all signed by Chen's team—are on the recent 100 best books list compiled by Taiwan's online bookstore, Books.com.tw.
Adds Chen, "While the picture book market in China has been growing in the past three years, Taiwan's, in comparison, has been on the decline since 2007. But in recent months, it has been pretty stable. Translated titles still represent a significant chunk of the market, comprising mostly English originals such as Twilight and The Secret. But we are seeing an increasing number of local works that are high in quality and much more accessible to the reader."
At Crown Culture, YA titles—fiction and nonfiction—have always been the focus. This is where more than 6.5 million copies of books on that boy-wizard from Hogwarts have been published. "The last two years have definitely seen a cooling of fantasy fever in Taiwan. In contrast, anything on vampire remains hot. I think adventure books, romance titles, and light Japanese novels will continue to appeal to YA readers out there," says deputy editor-in-chief Emily Chuang, who has just released the sixth volume of the 39 Clues. "We started publishing this Scholastic series in February 2010, and it has sold about 40,000 copies so far."
New projects in the pipeline include The Demon's Lexicon, Alcatraz series, The Carrie Diaries, The Saga of Larten Crepsley, and The Thin Executioner. "We will also have a new original series for children, Miss Wu Talked About the Bible, later this year. Incidentally, the main series, the 50-volume perennial seller Miss Wu Talked about Chinese History, is gaining popularity abroad, although we published it back in 1991. The simplified Chinese rights have just been resold to a new publisher, and we have publishers in Thailand and Vietnam interested in doing their language editions."
Two years ago, growing interest in mystery novels within the Chinese-speaking territory has prompted Crown to launch the Soji Shimada Mystery Award to uncover local talents. Co-organizers come from five different countries—China, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. "Named in honor of Soji Shimada, one of Japan's top mystery novelists, the first prize for 2009 went to Taiwanese Sean Wang for his novel Roamers in the Virtual Street. Following competition rules, the winning title will be published in six languages, including English."
For Chuang, e-books and e-readers are still not very popular, mainly because "few people have e-readers and there are not many titles available for downloading. Most e-readers, like Kindle, Sony Reader, and Nook, also have limited support for Chinese characters. The situation has changed since the iPad launch in December. But this is a new market, and reading habits typically take a while to shift. Nevertheless, this year we are planning to start issuing e-books for all titles that we have digital rights."
It has not been business as usual at Grimm Press since 2006, when publisher K.T. Hao decided to shift his attention to e-book development. "We created a special imprint called Gurubear with electronic titles known as ePBs, or e-picture books. Two versions are available—flipping pages as in PDF and Flash animation—which can be read on iPhone or iPad in Chinese or English," says Hao, whose team is now working on Japanese language editions. About 250 ePBs (produced in collaboration with some 350 authors and illustrators) are now available for downloads from Apple's App Store. Recent bestsellers include One Pizza, One Penny, The Magic Book, and The Nian Monster.
"Digital publishing has changed the reading habit of Taiwanese children. Those in the 6–12 age group tend to read more on e-readers or computers, and so we publish fewer print titles for them. Instead, our print titles are targeted at those between 3 and 6. At the same time, the new publishing format gives us a new platform to reach teenage readers, and naturally we have broadened our publishing program to include teen and young adult titles," adds Hao.
In the past 19 years, Grimm has published more than 1,400 titles. Two bestsellers—One Pizza, One Penny and Pinocchio—have sold more than 200,000 copies domestically and been translated into six languages, including English, German, Russian, and Spanish. Rights sales contribute only about 15% to the company's bottom line, and that figure has remained steady since 2005. Many of Grimm's titles have won accolades both locally and abroad. The First Welcome, a collection of essays by famous local writer Ling Liang, for instance, won the top fiction prize at the 2011 Taipei: One City, One Book Awards, while The Nian Monster and Charles Chaplin were among those selected for the 2009 and 2011 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, respectively.
Commenting on the book industry, Hao says, "Taiwan is a small market, and it is even smaller now because of an aging society that sees fewer babies every year. Many other countries face the same problem, and continuing in the traditional way is not a solution. Instead, through e-books, publishers would effectively eliminate geographical boundaries and significantly reduce inventory costs."