The Taipei International Book Exhibition has always been known for its large congregation of overseas exhibitors, and this year’s event, running from February 16–-21, continues the tradition. The theme “Reading the World,” with an illustrated world map pinpointing major cities, accentuates the global focus of the annual event. In fact, this 24th outing, which showcases Hungary as its guest of honor, hosts 66 countries in total. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong, for instance, have their own pavilions in Hall 1, which is where overseas publishers are located.

On the other side of the fairgrounds, Hall 3 is designated the Children’s Book Pavilion, with “Fly to the World” as its theme, and it showcases the work of award-winning illustrators from Taiwan, Portugal, and Hungary. Books for children have been a longtime focus of the fair, from its earliest days, and the hall devoted to children’s books reflects TIBE’s continuing emphasis on that segment of the Taiwan book market.

For managing director Abdul Thadha of Sweet Cherry Publishing, the absence of a U.K. collective stand has not stopped him from exhibiting on his own at TIBE. “I have been wanting to come here for a long time, and this is a good show,” he said. “I’m meeting new people and creating a whole new business network. I have a dozen meetings on the first day, and I’m glad I made the decision to be here.” Angie Lake’s Danny Dingle series (“in the Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates tradition”), The Diaries of Robin’s Toys, and A Case of Good Manners (“about life lessons and moral values”) are popular with visitors to the booth. “Our distribution arm, Bangzo Books, buys large quantities from British publishers for sale at consumer fairs, and that is what we are doing here at TIBE alongside promoting and selling rights to Sweet Cherry titles. So we gain insights from Bangzo sales, and create Sweet Cherry content around what sells in each market.”

Group Asia sales director Laurence Richard of Bonnier, meanwhile, has found that “many Taiwanese children’s publishers, especially small and independent houses, do not visit Bologna or Frankfurt due to the cost involved, and thus being here on the ground to meet them becomes very important in forging new business relationships.” Richard, who took a rights table at the previous TIBE, decided on having a booth this year after positive outcomes from her first fair. Among the 100-plus Bonnier titles already sold to Taiwan are Eryl Norris’s Who’s Who in the Woods (a bilingual Chinese/English edition that is now in second printing for 8,000 copies) and Andy Mansfield’s Find the Dots. “I’m promoting Highest Mountain Deepest Ocean, illustrated by Taiwanese artist Page Tsou, two Jane Foster titles – Black and White and First Words – and Richard Scarry’s Pickles Pig’s First Words.”

Over at DK, the first two days of TIBE saw plenty of drop-bys as well as scheduled meetings. “It was not just publishers from Taiwan but also those from other parts of Asia,” said Caroline Purslow, head of sales for China and Southeast Asia. Self-study program English for Everyone, which launches worldwide this June, was the focus at DK’s stand. “The low birth rate in Taiwan is a challenge in maintaining our children’s book sales here,” said Purslow, “and so we have to offer the best possible titles that we can to grab the attention of publishers, parents and kids. Picturepedia: An Encyclopedia on Every Page, and titles combining Braille lettering with tactile elements and printed text to allow read-along are among those unique titles that we are promoting at this fair.”

It was Seoul-based Kyowon’s 15th outing at TIBE. “Up till 2010, we sold a lot of big sets through Taiwan’s door-to-door book distribution channel with companies such as PanAsia and Chase,” international copyright manager Sooyoung Park said. “Door-to-door is the way we have operated in Korea since our company’s inception, so we know how it works. But now, this market is about single titles and much smaller sets,” added Park, whose team has sold more than 500 titles to Taiwan over the years. “While China is the most important market for us, we are not giving up on Taiwan as we believe that the market, and its economy, will improve in the near future. In fact, Taiwanese publishers continue to buy good books albeit in small quantities.”

For foreign rights manager Marion Girona at Paris-based Fleurus Editions, the third TIBE outing was the charm. “The first year, in 2013, was mostly about getting a feel of the market and making contacts. The second year saw our sales to Taiwan really picking up. We skipped a year to follow up on deals and contacts, and now we are back with a goal of promoting craft books for children such as making masks and robots – titles which have been very successful in France – and we are seeing a lot of interest here.” Girona finds that Taiwan is closer to Japan rather than China in terms of title selection. “A title that has been sold to Japan will work in Taiwan, and mentioning such sales works wonders here. And fortunately, we have sold a lot to Japanese publishers.” Asked about the impact of the low birth rate in Taiwan, Girona said: “I’m not seeing any changes to my children’s book sales as there are many small and independent publishers who are interested to buy and diversify their lists.”

“Sophisticated” was the way Thames & Hudson foreign rights manager Nicola Lewis described Taiwan publishers. “We exhibit in Beijing but not all Taiwanese publishers go there. TIBE is an important fair for us to touch base with our clients on their homeground.” Lewis has sold early learning titles published by OKIDO to Taiwan, and is promoting The Big Book of Bugs and This Book Thinks You’re a Scientist at the fair. “The children’s segment is new to our company,” Lewis said, “and we have always worked with indie presses and specialist houses as our titles cater to a unique group of readers. So the emerging crop of boutique and specialty publishers and bookstores in Taiwan works really well for us.”

Comparisons between the markets in China and Taiwan are unavoidable. especially with growing importance of the Beijing and Shanghai book fairs. Population-wise, there is no denying that China has the bigger market. But Taiwan with 23.5 million people publishes 40,000 new titles per year, compared to China, which produces only 440,000 new titles (10 times more) for its population of 1.25 billion (a market at least 57 times bigger).

Laurence Richard at Bonnier pointed out that “while Taiwan has a much smaller market, Taiwanese publishers are very dynamic, and they go all out to market and promote their titles. It is also a strong and sophisticated market for novelty titles, pop-ups and activity books. Its retail prices are also much higher compared to China.”

For Sooyoung Park of Kyowon, “Rights deals to Taiwan publishers net higher prices, around five to six times those offered by mainland Chinese publishers.” Another major difference between the two markets, he noted, is the scarcity of hardcover picture books in China. “Chinese publishers and consumers love a lot of text. So if you offer them a picture book with few lines of text, they would not be interested. In Taiwan, as long as the picture book is of high quality with a great storyline, they will pay for it.”

Purslow of DK had an additional observation, saying that “the Taiwan market is more into lifestyle-based titles while China is more about reference and education-based titles. But China is a fast-changing market and nothing stays the same for long.”

Attendees agreed that TIBE remains a significant event on the fair calendar despite the growing importance of the mainland Chinese market and its book fairs. Thadha of Sweet Cherry put it this way: “British and American publishers are missing out a lot by not being here. There are a lot more Taiwanese publishers than we thought, and there is much unexplored terrain in this book market, with interest in a wide variety of titles.”

In fact, of the 6,000 registered publishing houses in Taiwan, only about 120 are active. But fewer than 10% of these active publishers exhibits at or visits Bologna or Frankfurt. As for boutique or niche presses, which publish four to six titles per year on very specific topics such as modern poetry, lifestyle, design or handicrafts, traveling to these international events is simply not within their budget. So meeting these local publishers at TIBE and witnessing their interest in buying rights is a big surprise to many overseas attendees.