In Taiwan, the two major market conditions currently affecting its children’s book segment—declining birthrate (at just 0.89 in 2022) juxtaposed with increased household spending on educational and edutainment titles—have held true over the years. Then, in 2019, the government implemented the 108 Curriculum Education System, which advocates for literacy, practical problem-solving skills, and logical reasoning. This in turn has created a significant demand for pop-science, mathematics, and nature publications in the market.
In all, this is great news for children’s book publishers at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, now midway through its six-day run, which will end on February 5. While the children’s pavilion is no longer in a separate hall (now combined with general/trade publishers due to fewer exhibitors), the foot traffic appeared comparable to the pre-pandemic fair of 2019.
Schoolchildren, now on their spring/Chinese New Year holiday, thronged the exhibition hall with their parents or teachers in tow. The booths of local children’s book publishers, which offer discounted titles and book bundles, were packed with parents on book-buying sprees and kids reading for free. For overseas publishers, the signs are positive—and the mood optimistic—for a thriving rights sales market in the segment.
“We have already sold six picture books to Taiwanese publishers last year, including The White Maze and Whiteout by Adele Tariel to Global Kids,” said publisher Florent Grandin of Pere Fouettard Editions, who is visiting TIBE for the first time and is looking to return next year. “This trip is about understanding the local book market, getting to know what works here, and meeting more Taiwanese publishers who may not be attending the Bologna or Frankfurt fairs.” Visitors to his booth in the France pavilion were drawn to another Tariel title, Chip the Sheep, with its brightly colored illustrations, Louna Demir’s The Taste of Freedom, and Laurent Cardon’s four-volume Birds of All Feathers series. “I’m only offering picture books, for ages two to eight, on this trip, and thus far, I see a keen interest in simple books pertaining to society and the environment.”
For Davide Ioppi, foreign rights manager of Italian publishing company White Star, who normally covers the Europe and Baltic region, his first time at the fair has been an eye-opener. “Cultural differences aside, publishers here are looking for totally different concepts. For instance, activity books are much more popular here. Publishers really like Clarissa Corradin’s Escape! An Adventure Activity Book: The Pharaoh’s Curse, which offers adventures, educational information, and problem solving, and series such as the Big Book of Games and Mad for Maths. Boxed sets with flashcards are also popular and we have Montessori Boxes, a well-known brand, to offer,” said Ioppi, who is also introducing the company’s new educational brand Lumi, for ages up to 9, to Taiwan publishers.
Over at the Quarto Group booth, the Folklore Field Guides series (on fairies, magical beasts, magic, and mermaids) with silver-foil-embossed cloth covers and silver book edges generated oohs and aahs from visitors. “But the publishers I met are mostly looking for general reference and titles on nature rather than fantasy,” said Quarto Kids foreign rights executive Rachel Li, whose team brought a total of 209 children’s titles to TIBE. “They prefer nonfiction and educational titles such as Clive Gifford’s Welcome to the Mysteryverse and Lucy Brownridge’s What Are You Doing Today, Mother Nature? But then again, every publisher is different and they publish for different age groups as well. So the interest coming from my visitors is diverse and wide-ranging.”
“Children’s publishers in Taiwan are buying more than they used to,” said foreign rights director Christine Scholz of Paris-based Editions Larousse, who has 25 fixed appointments scheduled for the fair. “They bought titles on art, nature, environment, social/emotional learning, and activity books.” Miss Agatha, an adventure/detective series by Christine Palluy, is one of the popular titles at her stand. So is Carine Simonet’s illustrated q&a-based series on death, friendship, and self-confidence. “The latter is particularly useful in helping parents address these topics with their children. We currently have five titles in the series, which Taiwan publishers can select or publish as a set.” As a first-time TIBE visitor, Scholz finds the fair well organized and the people professional and curious.
Belgian publisher Philippe Werck of Clavis was thrilled to return to TIBE and catch up with the people he met back in 2019. “I also have more than 1,000 new titles—published within the past three years—and Clavis Joy, a new product line of merchandises, to introduce to them,” said Werck, who has lots of fun presenting Roel Seidell’s The Yippee Stick and Esther van den Berg’s Kiki series to visitors. “Being here in person—not through Zoom calls—and connecting face-to-face makes all the difference. The book business is a people business, and so while books are important, the people are even more important. I feel the distance if I’m not here.” Its strong brand, a proven stable of authors and illustrators, and vast network built over the past 30 years have kept the rights sales at Clavis going during the pandemic; in fact, the company grew 60% since 2019.
Last fall, Werck launched the ClavisGo app, which scans and reads aloud pages of any Clavis title, including those in Belgian editions, in English. “I see a heightened interest in English-language learning for the young on this visit. So, by using this free app, Taiwan publishers, teachers, and parents can help children to learn English while improving their listening and pronunciation skills.”
For Caroline Purslow, DK sales director for Asia, “It’s fantastic to be back and meet old friends face-to-face after three years of head-and-shoulders views on Zoom.” She is attending along with her colleagues Cindy Ma and Sharon Wong, who are in charge of international publishing and licensing, and sales, respectively. “Our goal is to uncover new information and market needs that we can take back to our editorial division so that they know what products would fit this market.” As for what is hot at the booth, Purslow pointed to titles such as Sanlyn Buxner’s The Moon, Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Life (and five other titles in the Anthology series), Ella Law’s Mouse Tells the Truth and Rabbit Says Sorry in the Kindness Club series, and Kalpana Fitzpatrick’s Get to Know Money. “Publishers are interested in titles on science/culture interdisciplinary crossovers, illustrated reference/nonfiction titles, and those on emotional intelligence,” said Purslow, who was excited to see the Taiwan edition of The Science of Animals hot off the press at Cite Publishing’s booth. Rights aside, sales of DK English editions to Taiwan importers have also increased significantly during the pandemic.
As for local publishing house PsyGarden, its specialization in psychology and related disciplines is unique in the market. “We have published many titles by practicing professionals that address topics such as autism, depression, digital addiction, hikikomori [severe social withdrawal], lying flat [returning to a simpler lifestyle and avoiding social competition], and truancy, as well as difficult subjects including incest and sexuality,” said editor-in-chief Gabriel Hsu, whose company has translated Ursula Wirtz’s Seelenmord: Inzest und Therapie and introduced Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parents series to Taiwan. “We recently published Chang Li-ren’s Safe Surfing Online: Remedies for Internet Addicts; Lu Chia-hui’s Welcome to Sexuality Counselling Room, that focuses on sex education, especially for teenage boys; and Amanda Wu’s Calming Your Impulsive Kids, on dealing with extreme emotions in children. We will continue to bring out more content addressing present-day issues and societal problems and sharing practitioners’ views with readers local and overseas.”
Over at Bookman, which publishes children’s books and language learning titles, the team was disappointed that its highly anticipated seventh Annual Hidden Pictures Challenge, based on Highlights’ famed series, was scrapped this year due to Covid-19 precautionary measures. “Translated and original titles from Highlights, Scholastic, and Benchmark Education continue to do well in Taiwan,” said publisher Jerome Su. “Titles from Benchmark’s new imprint Reycraft are also popular, especially those by Taiwanese authors such as Liu Ching-yen’s The Woodpecker Girl and Liu Hsu-Kung’s Look at You! Look at the Mess You Made.”
When asked about market trends, Su said, “In previous years, readers tend to go for classics. But nowadays, their interests are much more varied. And that is a good thing to have in society and in the publishing industry: we want people—young and old—to read more and read widely.”