The Taipei International Book Fair (TIBE) is here again. Now in its 25th year, the six-day event once more dedicates a separate pavilion (in Hall 3) to children’s books, indicating the importance and size of the segment in the island’s book market. Children’s titles remain one of the two growing segments (alongside humanities and social science), where translations may take up half (or more) of a publisher’s catalogue.
Running from February 8–13, with closing hours extended to 9 p.m. (and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), the fair hosts 621 exhibitors from 59 countries and provides more than 450 events including forums and workshops. The children’s pavilion has 60 exhibitors, all local companies, with major publishing players such as Hsin Yi Foundation and Global Kids Books claiming prime space. Parents and kids crowd into the hall, checking out new titles and having fun in the so-called Reading Forest areas—complete with cardboard huts and tree-painted walls.
For overseas exhibitors looking to tap into Taiwan’s children’s book market, the signs are encouraging. The big names—Bonnier, Clavis, DK, Flammarion, Gallimard, National Geographic, Scholastic (represented by Bookman), and Thames and Hudson—are all there in the International Zone in Hall 1, sharing the floor with old timers and new faces.
Over at the France Pavilion, Editions Auzou was back for its sixth TIBE, and rights manager Giulia Scandone was thrilled to have many more activity titles to show potential clients. “Card games, which did not work last year or previously, are now getting more attention and a warmer reception. Expensive titles, such as our big format touch-and-feel board books or the My Animated Picture Book series, are selling here, much to my surprise,” said Scandone, who has sold Papertoys to local publisher Global Kids Books. “Some people that I know are leaving to set up their own independent publishing houses or bookstores. To me, that is a positive sign that there are still opportunities and space to grow in the Taiwanese book market. For us at Auzou, Taiwan remains an important market even though it goes up and down from one year to the next, which is not all that unusual in any given market.”
Down the aisle, publisher Philippe Werck of Belgium-based Clavis has been exhibiting at TIBE for four consecutive years. For him, “there is no point in appearing one year and disappearing the next. The book and rights business is essentially a people business, and constancy builds the relationship.” Title-wise, some Taiwanese publishers, Werck said, are focused on a single author, consistently buying up new titles from well-known names such as Guido van Genechten, for instance. “Our sales to Taiwan have not shown any signs of slowing down. In fact, we signed a seven-title deal on the first day of this fair, which was a bit unusual as Taiwanese publishers tend not to buy in bulk like their mainland Chinese counterparts. In general, Taiwanese publishers are more selective, and once they have selected their titles, you know they will pay a lot of attention to the translation, printing and presentation quality—something that Clavis holds dear.”
Foreign rights manager Lucy Gibbs of U.K.-based Quarto Group, attending the fair for the first time, was enthusiastic about sales to Taiwan over the years. “We have been doing co-editions here since 2008, and in the last three years, with better market understanding and networking, our sales have gone up,” said Gibbs, who had nearly 20 scheduled meetings at the fair (with her colleague having 30 lined up). “What is interesting is that while there are many Korean, Japanese, and other Asian publishers here, all my meetings are with Taiwanese publishers.” Among her most popular titles at the fair is the educational and fun-based Academy series by Steve Martin (published by Ivy Kids) with stickers, pull-out posters, game cards, and other add-ons.
Another first-timer is Capstone, which is the only American publisher at the fair. For London-based rights sales manager Anna Thylin, this visit “is very much an effort to replicate some of the successes that we have in China, where almost all our titles have been sold. What I have seen so far is a demand for more modern and artistic illustrations—darker and not Technicolor—and somewhat more European in taste. Jennie Poh’s Herbie’s Big Adventure, Katy Hudson’s Too Many Carrots, and Suz Hughes’s The Night the Stars Went Out get a lot of attention here.” The local publishers, she added, “are more focused on titles for the 3-to-7 age groups, with an emphasis on the story and not on cute illustrations or characters.”
London-based Laurence King Publishing, also a first-time TIBE exhibitor, is seeing plenty of attention given to its activity kits. “Titles that have kids painting, drawing, folding papers, or doing something creative are in demand,” said head of rights Barney Duly, citing Aleksandra Artymowska’s Amazed (available in seven language editions but not yet in Traditional Chinese and Anne Laval’s Story Box as examples. “It is possible to sell as many copies here as in China, where the population size is easily 50 times bigger. On record, we have titles selling 8,000 copies in Taiwan but only 3,000 to 5,000 copies across the Straits. So, this market has a lot of potential.”
Still, there is no ignoring the fact that the Taiwanese book market has suffered a drop of about 25% in total book sales in the past year, a situation many larger publishers have blamed on the closures of around 600 bookstores, mostly small and independent, around the island.
But for those in the children’s segment, rights buying and translated titles are coming along just fine. Take Global Kids Books, an imprint under the Commonwealth Publishing Group. Translations make up nearly 70% of its list, with authors such as Roald Dahl, Jeff Kinney, Mary Pope Osborne, and Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska (Maps) headlining its catalogue. “Sales of children’s books in Taiwan actually grew 10% last year, and so we are seeing many publishers jumping into the children’s segment in recent months,” said editor-in-chief Tang Lee, whose team has just launched the 11th title in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Its version of Osborne’s Magic Tree House series, with new illustrations in full-color, has sold upwards of 1.5 million sets.
“A small island like Taiwan has a limited pool of illustrators and authors,” Lee said. “Given the longer developmental stage in bringing out original works, we have to import and translate from other parts of the world in order to enrich our program and to provide kids with the widest selection possible. So we look at what kids need in this modern society, and we publish accordingly. Her company has brought in unique titles such as Oldrich Ruicka’s How Things Are Made and William Grill’s Shackleton’s Journey as well as Newbery and Caldecott winners.
Such acceptance and consumption of foreign titles is a hallmark of the Taiwanese publishing industry, which has what Duly of Laurence King noted as “a mature and sophisticated book market, with very selective and refined taste of what works for its readers.” As for the fair itself, Thylin of Capstone summed it up well: “It is bigger, better, and more organized than expected, and the fairground itself is easily accessible.”