The 27th edition of the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) is now midway through its six-day run, which will end on February 17. As usual, the first day was designated the “Professional Day” for trade visitors with the rest of the fair open to the public. And the timing—coming right at the end of the Chinese New Year holiday and the start of the school semester—seems to work very well.

Dual-career parents with leftover bonuses, which are traditionally given out by companies ahead of the major festival, and their children, flush with red packets (or monetary gifts) from doting elders, are prepared to spend. And in Taiwan, spending on educational materials and edutainment products has been trending up in the face of a dropping birthrate (which, at 1.13, is the third-lowest in the world). The fair’s opening hours, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (and till 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings), seem geared towards enticing parents to drop by after work or bring in the whole family to shop for more books.

Overall, the children’s book market in Taiwan is growing steadily. In the first half of 2018, a total of 17,171 new titles were released, of which 11% (or about 1,900 titles) were children’s and YA books. The number of children’s titles in the market has increased by at least 10% annually since 2016.

“This growth has seen many publishers from different backgrounds jumping onto the bandwagon,” said Sing-ju Chang, executive director of Hsin-Yi Foundation, which set up Taiwan’s first publishing house dedicated to picture books and learning materials for children back in 1971, and is credited for bringing in Eric Carle titles and the BookStart campaign. “These publishers introduce diversity to the segment along with a stable of new writers and illustrators, which is inspiring and much needed to invigorate the industry and keep it innovative. But the piece of the pie that is the Taiwanese book market has not grown any bigger over the years, and so the question is always about survival and longevity.”

For Chang, the immediate challenge lies “in meeting the demands of children that are raised differently from the way many established publishers and I were raised. We also need to publish to meet their needs for the future, and their future is a vastly different world from ours.”

Jerome Su, who publishes children’s books and language learning titles under the Bookman imprint, is doing brisk business with translated and original titles from Highlights for Children and Scholastic. “English language materials remain popular, especially those offering new learning and teaching methods. Titles from Benchmark Education, Scholastic, and Teacher Created Materials, for instance, are in high demand over here.”

Su also sees new topics—on women justices (“mostly due to the popularity of Ruth Bader Ginsburg”) and weather (“after so much talk about global warming”), for instance—appearing in graded reader programs, which previously tended to focus on the classics. “These new topics are most welcomed by Taiwanese parents and educators—as are new STEM and STEAM courses.”

The stability of the Taiwanese children’s book segment is the major factor pulling Paul Gerrish, U.K.-based sales manager of Child’s Play, back to Taipei for his 23rd TIBE. “Over the years, our great relationships with teachers, educators, and parents along with positive product reviews in various publications have turned us into a brand name here,” said Gerrish, who sells both rights and original editions at TIBE. Interest in STEM titles and strong female characters is high, he added. “Our four-title Rosa’s Workshop series by Jessica Spanyol, which will debut in May, is one such example. Then there is the focus on environmental issues, which has many booth visitors gravitating towards Phoebe Swan’s King Leonard’s Teddy.”

Rising paper costs have seen Child’s Play increasing its book prices for the first time in a decade, prompting its distributors in Asia to sign longer-term contracts that hold the prices for the next two to three years.

Pricing issues (due to higher manufacturing costs) have certainly turned publishers away from novelty titles, observed Laurence Richard, head of rights and co-edition sales at Bonnier U.K.. “Interest in educational and nonfiction titles, i.e., STEM, was evident since last year. Our Animalium and Botanicum series by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis, respectively, have been selling well here, and I am seeing considerable interest in Colin Stuart’s The Speed of Starlight at this TIBE,” said Richard, adding that Bonnier author Britta Teckentrup is a recognized name in Taiwan, having sold three of her titles, The Odd One Out, There Are Fish Everywhere, and Where’s the Pair? For Richard, hearing directly from publishers and getting to know what they are looking for is of utmost importance. “Keeping in touch with the many publishers who do not attend Bologna or Frankfurt is crucial, and this is why I am back at TIBE for four consecutive years now.”

That need to be on the ground has also seen Delhi-based Offshoot Books returning to TIBE for a second visit. “There is no way we can tap this market or region by sitting in our India office. Potential partners need to see our products and get to know the entire range, and not just view the catalogue online or communicate with us via emails,” said chief editor Eman Chowdhary, who is in Taipei with international business development executive Maria Antony. A huge chunk of Offshoot’s publishing program revolves around educational activity books, such as Bard-It (on unique terms and phrases found in Shakespeare’s works), Social Not-Working (for the restless techies), and Tough It Out (on dealing with anger, bullying, dental hygiene, and school assignments). “Our titles offer new learning and teaching methods that are exciting and interesting, which are exactly what students, educators, and parents are looking for,” Antony added.

For foreign rights and sales manager Lara Clift at Leicester, U.K.-based Sweet Cherry Publishing, there is substantial interest in middle grade series, especially in classics such as Sherlock Holmes as well as new publication Danny Dingle’s Fantastic Finds, which is now published in 10 languages. In general, Clift finds that “quality of content is very important to sophisticated Taiwanese publishers, and their selection methods seem similar to those employed by their Japanese and Korean counterparts. They are also more willing to try new topics and ideas, and will ask for recommendations. At the same time, these publishers are not partial to licensed stuff or brands, unlike in Hong Kong, and they prefer to do separate editions instead of bilingual titles, which are popular in the mainland Chinese market.”

It has taken international rights director Nirmal Sandhu of Marco Rodino Agency—which represents Scholastic U.S. at TIBE—some time to find the right translation partner for Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man series. “Middle-grade graphic novels in Taiwan tend to have a distinctive style, which is either the Japanese manga or the Korean manhwa type. So Dog Man’s unique style, layout, and content requires a new positioning, and we will work with our partner, Hong Kong-based Crown Publishing, to produce the Traditional Chinese edition for both Hong Kong and Taiwan markets,” said Sandhu, who brought two middle-grade books to TIBE: Kazu Kibuishi’s graphic novel Amulet and Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Journey of Little Charlie, which just had a big auction in China. “By and large,” Sandhu added, “the Taiwanese market is geared towards picture books, board books, and STEM-related titles. Many are asking for a different type of illustrated nonfiction—highly stylized and fun—and Mike Lowery’s Everything Awesome About Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Beasts and Valorie Fisher’s Now You Know series seem to meet their criteria.” Sandhu also received a lot of positive feedback for Charlotte Agell’s Maybe Tomorrow?, a picture book about grief and friendship.

The Taiwanese market is always about illustrated nonfiction, according to Marco Rodino, managing director of his eponymous literary agency, who has visited TIBE since 1992. “Taiwan was then the second biggest market in Asia after Japan, and its thirst for knowledge and books has never stopped. Even then, the publishers and readers were sophisticated and responsive to new trends, formats, and ideas—whether they were from the West or the East,” said Rodino, adding that “fiction remains the most challenging segment. And this is where we should be watching for growth: Are the young editors out there ready to take up and bring in middle grade and YA series for Taiwanese children? If they do, then more will follow in their footsteps.”

For Rodino, Taiwan remains a dynamic, manageable, and accessible market that is mostly populated by independent publishers. “All types of books work here: there have been no obvious failures nor are there any stand-out titles. This is an open market, and I always wish that more British and American publishers—big and small—were here at TIBE to see, understand, and explore it.”