Ask any Chinese readers for their impression of books from Taiwan, and most likely they will cite meticulous editing and beautiful covers while reeling off the names of authors of literary gems, romance titles, and martial art novels. Turn to any American or European publisher, and chances are they will mention outstanding picture books with deceptively simple story lines that captivate kids and adults alike. And both sides are right on the money.
Taiwan is big on literary works and original picture books. It is also a major rights market, especially for American and European bestsellers. Not surprisingly, frenetic rights selling and buying activities are a prominent feature of the Taipei International Book Exhibition.
But this barely scratches the surface. PW turns to insiders—five of the most accomplished publishers in town—for an assessment of the industry’s current situation, as well as its challenges and future.
“Taiwan’s publishing industry is very much shaped by history,” says John Kuo, president of Book Republic. “The years under Japanese rule [1895–1945] and the subsequent government basically spelled the death of literature and publishing freedom. Only in the early 1980s did the first generation of publishing houses emerge—namely Yuan-Liou and Commonwealth—to promote original works and kick-start translations. But for most publishers of that era—myself included—publishing is a passion. We were low on capital and expertise. We pretty much made it up as we went along. In the current fast-changing Internet economy, however, publishing has to be less of a passion and more of a business proposition.”
“Very roughly, the publishing industry has probably grown 50% in the past decade,” Kuo continues, “the retail and distribution channels, 1,000%. This imbalance may be corrected by having bigger publishing houses or groups. Unfortunately, existing ones are not big enough or have huge enough capital, to influence the retail and distribution sector.” Digital publishing, he says, may provide the platform for an industry transformation and reorganization. “Everybody starts from ground zero when it comes to creating e-books or running e-bookstores. Incidentally, this change may attract the younger, Internet generation to the publishing industry.”
Meanwhile, original works are growing fast because, he adds, “There is now pride in being an author. Before, making a living off writing books was considered a dead-end career in any Chinese community. Over the next decade, I fully expect to see many more homegrown authors making it big here and overseas.”
Executive director Sing-ju Chang of Hsin Yi Foundation shares Kuo’s sentiments on digital publishing: “With cloud computing and applications making inroads into the book industry, I believe the younger generation will be attracted to participate in the search for new ways to publish, market, and sell books. A new breed of publishers will emerge to transform the industry and take it to new heights.”
For Chang, the fact that most Taiwan publishers own and manage their own companies—aside from playing the role of chief editor—is something to be proud of. “They know the market and the rules of the game very well, and, as owners, are totally dedicated to their business,” Chang says. “But these traditional strengths may hamper their ability to meet the new challenges of a rapidly changing world. We have to recognize that our publishing industry is small compared to China’s. Maybe we should join hands with our counterparts across the strait to capitalize on each other’s expertise and face the new era together.” Chang now treats the much bigger Chinese-speaking market—including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and other overseas Chinese communities—as a single market, working to digitize content for different devices and channels to fit every territory.
As a children’s book publisher, Chang is mindful of the segment’s many challenges. “Firstly, the low birth rate is a big issue, but it is not something that publishers can solve. Secondly, it is hard to nurture homegrown talents when translated authors and illustrators garner so much attention. It is also more difficult to find a creative title that catches my attention nowadays. Lastly, young parents often do not have a habit of reading and therefore do not put much value on reading. Books now have to compete with electronic gadgets and other things like music or computer lessons for parents’ money.”
Although Yuan-Liou is one of the few publishers with the financial resources and operational capabilities to meet the digital publishing challenge head-on, the company finds the going tough, according to president and CEO Jung-wen Wang: “Even the most aggressive publishers derive less than 5% of their revenues from e-books, a figure too insignificant to merit much consideration. In contrast, online magazines and electronic databases have seen substantial growth through steady development.”
For Wang, who is also chairman of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation (an 18-member committee in charge of the annual event), the government should play a bigger role in supporting e-books by promoting digital reading. “In the B2B2C educational market, one way could be for copyrights to be shared among author, publisher, distributor, and digital service provider, and titles purchased through a government-controlled model with standardized pricing,” Wang says. “Sadly, such a model has yet to materialize. Much of our universities’ funding is now spent on imported e-publications, and elementary and high schools have no budget for e-books.”
Adding to the dilemma is that publishers, while crucial to the content-making process, are not the key players dictating e-book development. “Digital technologies have revamped the traditional publishing model,” Wang says, “and the promise of a global Web-based reading community has turned ICT [information and communications technology] companies into either effective collaborators or formidable competitors.” But the more pressing issue, he says, is how to meet the needs of a much larger market. “In the past, Taiwan publishers catered to only 23 million people who read traditional Chinese. With China [and simplified Chinese readers] now in the picture, competition for translation rights of foreign titles is intense. Naturally, Taiwan publishers also want to penetrate the mainland market. But a reading population of 1.3 billion requires new types of personnel, funding and organization.”
So the challenge is multifold: searching for good authors and quality works while plotting entry into China and e-book markets. “We have to leave our comfort zone and seek collaboration with ICT companies and even China’s publishing groups,” adds Wang. “This will bring new resources to meet the challenge. And we need our government’s support. Government-to-government negotiation on cross-strait publishing activities would speed up the creation of a unified Chinese-language publishing market.”
For publisher and editorial director Linden Lin of Linking Publishing, “Taiwan publishers’ open-mindedness is without equal. We are open to foreign authors, new themes, and different perspectives. Not surprisingly, translations account for nearly 28% of all new titles produced annually, and they include most world languages. Many of the translations make the bestseller list, a testimony to our readers’ receptivity to different types of works and other cultures. But publishers need to do more to introduce homegrown authors and Taiwanese culture abroad. One way of accomplishing this, I think, is for publishers to seriously start thinking about publishing more English titles for foreign readers. We also need to consider expanding the Chinese-reading market within Southeast Asia. The popularity of books from China has caused readers to shift from traditional Chinese to simplified Chinese. Thus, Taiwan publishers should start releasing books in simplified Chinese for export.”
Presently, most of the books available in Taiwan, adds Lin, are “published by small and medium-size publishing houses, which represent the bulk of the industry. They publish more varieties of books, thus enriching the reading experience. Some of these houses are run by the younger generation—from publishers to editors and designers—and they have lots of new ideas to offer in terms of design, format, and marketing strategy. They have made great contributions that enliven the Taiwan publishing industry.”
But the many new publications need to be put on shelves. “The lack of shelf space is not a new problem,” says Lin. “The bookstore, after all, is not a library, and it is not possible to display every book that has been published. As a publisher, we have to find other sales channels, and online bookstores and wholesale retailers are two good options.” Linking publishes about 150 new titles annually and “has kept to this figure in the past 20 years. We have no plans to reduce or increase it for the foreseeable future.”
Taiwan’s publishing industry, though in better shape now compared to a few years ago, is still at a major transition stage, says owner Rex How of Locus Publishing. “Competition between bricks-and-mortar and online bookstores has caused not only discount wars but also forced out many independent bookstores. That puts pressure on publishers. Many publishers were also thinking about developing their own e-book readers [for reading Chinese characters] before iPad became so popular. For now, publishers are seeking new markets and business models that would work in mainland China, while our counterparts across the strait have begun to seek opportunities in Taiwan. The cross-strait open policy of 2008 has certainly helped to bring the two communities closer.”
For How, a bigger market is needed to develop Taiwan’s digital publishing industry. “Talks about digital publishing typically revolve around making products that are different from traditional ones, both in the way they are read and in the way they are enjoyed,” he says. “I think we need to regard printed books more as art pieces, and digital products as interactive edutainment. If we treat both the same, then we should not be surprised by how much printed books are affected by e-books. The point is not to start a war between print and electronic books, but to create a new future in digital publishing.”
As for industry challenges, How wittily uses the winter as a metaphor. “The first challenge is the rise of e-books and digital publishing—a universal and very serious challenge. I look at it as ‘facing the coming winter.’ The second is to check discount wars between physical and online bookstores, or ‘how to escape winter snowstorms.’ The third is specific to Taiwan: how to move into and leverage the mainland Chinese market, and that, to me, is ‘searching for fire during winter snowstorms.’ ”
For more on what is happening in the Taiwan book industry, PW visits the following 13 publishing houses for a quick chat.
Anyone flipping through Book Republic’s 2011 catalogue would be impressed by the many big-name authors: Jostein Gaarder, Khaled Hosseini, Markus Zusak, Philippe Claudel, Frank Schatzing, Philip Pullman, Bryce Courtenay, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few. A history buff, president John Kuo has definitely chosen wide (and wise) for his target audience. “In the past, translations accounted for nearly 70% of our publishing program, but this figure is going to be lower now that we have more originals to offer. Our mission has always been to promote original works, but we have to be realistic: blockbuster translations sell, and they sell well.” He names Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye, Zusak’s The Book Thief, Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking, Edmondo de Amicis’s Cuore, and Kim Edwards’s The Lake of Dreams among the company’s recent bestsellers.
“Our originals have been gaining a lot of recognition in the market as well. Our biggest original project thus far—a major investment and a bestseller too—is the 100-volume Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Geography of Taiwan. It has sold more than one million sets since its launch in August 1991. Another multivolume series, also expected to have 100 volumes, this time on Taiwan history, is being developed from scratch through collaborations with experts in the field. We are targeting April 2012 for its release.”
A decade after its inception, Book Republic has published nearly 1,600 titles. Another 300 will be added before this year is out. “We also added five new imprints in 2009 and another five in 2010, taking our total number of imprints to 17. We have imprints on food, business personalities, lifestyle, health, comics, and so on. The reason behind having these imprints is simple. Firstly, we want to broaden our publishing program to cover popular and important topics in different genres. Secondly, focusing on a specific imprint allows our editors space to grow and develop their knowledge and expertise in a particular area, therefore producing more in-depth and better titles for readers,” adds Kuo. However, good editors are hard to come by in Taiwan, so Kuo has embarked on a mission to educate, develop, and train those with potential for the job.
“An editor’s job should be more than looking for typos and corresponding with authors,” Kuo says. “I want editors who can come up with original ideas for books or find the right authors for the target audience. But this nurturing process is tedious, and poaching is a common industry practice. However, someone has to do it.”
When the founder (and chairman) is an adjunct professor of translation as well as CEO of the Taiwan Association of Translation and Interpretation, talk invariably turns to translations. For Jerome Su, making foreign literary gems available in Chinese is a passion. He and his team have just translated John Banville’s The Book of Evidence, Ghosts, and Athena. “We also published his Christine Falls, The Silver Swan, The Lemur, and Elegy for April, written under his pseudonym, Benjamin Black. Mikey Walsh’s Gypsy Boy and a Korean bestseller, Mr. Hong Who Becomes an English Genius, are in the works.” Last year, Su added 60 new titles to the catalogue; 80 are planned for this year.
At his three bookstores in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Taichung, imported books fill the shelves. “A bookstore is like a library. Graduate students, professors, and researchers visit our stores to browse through books. Nothing beats having the physical book, even in this Internet age.” Each store stocks around 8,000 to 10,000 titles and, unlike other retailers, most remain on the shelves for a very long time. Bestsellers for 2010/2011 are mostly English language-learning material, including Charlotte’s Web, which is marketed as a reading text in Taiwan.
“Demand for children’s books in English is growing as more children—and parents—are buying touch-and-feel playbooks, story books, and movie tie-in titles. Twenty years ago, when the focus was on cramming for exams instead of reading for pleasure, few wanted to import children’s books. We were then the first to bring in Eric Carle and, for a mere 500 copies, we had exclusive distributorship. Today, a 5,000-copy order would not be sufficient to earn that kind of privilege.” Not surprisingly, Su has established two imprints to tap into these growing markets: Cherry Press for children’s books and Simple Press for self-study books on English language-learning with Chinese instruction.
“With more elective courses held in English and teachers referring to English textbooks even when teaching in Chinese,” Su says, “Bookman is holding its own in the market. Furthermore, since we import key texts in bulk and have reprint rights to some of the more expensive titles, we can offer them at around 50% to 70% of the original price. Thus, we are able to compete with the more affordable pricing of e-books.”
Another Bookman affiliate, B.K. Norton, is a commission agent for about 40 overseas publishers, two-thirds of which are American houses and university presses. Many of these publishers have seen their sales increase two- or threefold within a couple of years.
The big banner draped over the China Times office building’s facade reveals that Haruki Murakami is huge in Taiwan, and that China Times publishes his latest work, 1Q84. “We have sold more than 400,000 copies of the three volumes of 1Q84 since its launch 22 months ago,” says president Amy Mo, who also counts Dan Brown among her top authors. “More than two million copies of Brown’s novels have been sold, including 200,000 copies of The Lost Symbol.” Other recent bestsellers include Dong-seon Park’s Simple Thinking about Blood Type (80,000 copies sold), Steven Levitt’s Super Freakonomics (35,000 copies), Will Bowen’s Complaint Free Relationships, and David Lieberman’s Get Anyone to Do Anything and Never Feel Powerless.
“Park’s book, a cute and entertaining comic about blood types, is very popular back in Korea, where his illustrations now decorate a whole range of iPhone skins,” Mo says. “That such a book sells so well in Taiwan is really surprising. Zhong-liang Lou’s debut book, Telling When You Will Fall Sick, is another sleeper hit and has sold above 100,000 copies. Using Chinese astrology to predict when one would fall sick, the author became an overnight sensation when he correctly foretold the health of several local politicians and artists. Sales of two other titles—Shi-ying Chu’s A Story of Unlearning, about the author’s charitable trips abroad, and Jong-lang Liu’s Understanding Natural Science at Any Time—also surpassed my wildest expectations.”
Several new titles are in the pipeline, including Herta Müller’s Respiratory Swing, Yoshimoto Banana’s The Kingdom IV, Jose Saramago’s Abby Chronicle, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Ha Jin’s Nanking Requiem. Overall, translations account for nearly half of Mo’s publishing program. “We also have around 300 e-books and 10 mobile apps. But sales of these new products are minuscule because Taiwan’s B2C e-book market is still not mature.”
Two years ago, Mo established a new editorial department with the aim of developing more originals: “Judging from the success of several titles that I have mentioned, the result has been very satisfactory. Better yet, many of these originals have been sold to mainland Chinese and Thailand publishers. A new R&D division will focus on developing more original book series. You can say that originals are our secret weapons for dealing with the shrinking print book market and emerging e-book platform.”
Incredibly, Mo has been shrinking her publishing program. “Each year, more than 40,000 new titles flood the Taiwan market—far too many for our small market. So we have become much more selective and focus more effort on maximizing the exposure and sales of each title instead.”
Children’s Publications Co.
Now in its 18th year of operation, Children’s Publications Co. Ltd. has produced more than 1,000 titles, 85% translations. The list includes picture books, pop-up playbooks, games, jigsaw puzzles, plush-and-plastic items, and audiovisual products. Many are multivolume illustrated series geared for children below 12 years of age. Among CPL’s recent bestsellers are Peter Rabbit, The Rainbow Fish, the First Discovery series, and the Ladybird series, as well as original works Siraya Boy and The Little Owl of the Orchid Island. (The latter has been sold to Japan and Korea.)
“Siraya Boy and Little Owl are about nature, and both have sold in excess of 20,000 copies,” says chairman and CEO Robert Lin. “Siraya’s illustrator is none other than You-ran Zhang, an award winner at Bologna 2001, who has effectively transferred his love and appreciation for nature into beautiful illustrations. The Little Owl is illustrated and written by avid birdwatcher Haw-ren Ho.” Lin’s team has also published works by other homegrown talents, such as Man-qiu Lin (The Hopeful Seeds, Little Sparrow in the Gallery) and Ying-fan Chen (The Secrets of Yu-Gin Mango).
The coming months will see several new titles, including Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book, Susan Meddaugh’s Martha Blah Blah and Martha Speaks, Joy Cowley’s Snake and Lizard, and Alvin Hall’s Show Me the Money. The latter will kick-start Lin’s program for a series of books that teach children about money. “In today’s society, it is important for kids to start learning about money and investment as early as possible so that they can manage their allowances wisely. We are also working with Pennsylvania-based Sandvik Innovations to copublish a 12-book series for preschoolers, teaching them math, writing, reading, and so on. At the same time, our team is collaborating with a group of local writers and illustrators to produce a six-volume set on southern Taiwan cuisine. Through this series, children will learn about their own culture and get to appreciate it.”
Interestingly, about 60% of CPL’s sales come from direct selling (especially door-to-door and multilevel marketing), the rest via retail. “It helps, of course, that we are the exclusive publisher for brands such as Peter Rabbit and Ladybird—classics and proven products that literally sell themselves. We are focusing on innovative and user-friendly materials to meet the needs of children in this Internet and iPad era. You can be sure of seeing more digital content alongside traditional publications from CPL in the near future,” adds Lin.
Cité Publishing Group
At Cité, innovative digital products for learning feature prominently. Take the popular school activity of bird identification as an example. Cité’s team has developed a highly illustrated interactive Web-based encyclopedia that will appeal to budding and expert ornithologists. To have a bird identified at NatureSys.com/bird, users only need to type in simple details (estimated bird size, beak shape, and spotting place). “A similar Web site on minerals will be launched in November,” says general manager Alex Yeh, who is targeting NatureSys services at the B2L market (specifically, k–12 school libraries).
More technology-rich interactive products are coming. “Apps development for different platforms will continue, as will our effort to enhance Cité’s presence and coverage in the pan-Chinese market,” says Yeh. Its current 150 apps (of which 95% are for iOS) will be doubled by year-end, and there have been many successes. Aside from its Grimm Press apps (see story on page 40), there are travel guides (Tokyo Travel, Taiwan Travel in 72 Hours), an apps portal (to create various special-interest Web colonies), e-Reading Now (Taiwan’s first iPad bookstore platform, launched in December), and NongNong e-magazine (an eye-catching fashion magazine specially designed for iPad).
“As more people use smartphones such as iPhone and Android to read books, access information, and execute office and personal tasks, publishers must create content that will reach them,” says Yeh. “At Cité, we will try different publishing ideas to allow Taiwan readers to read e-books and access content anytime, anywhere.” As part of Taiwan’s biggest book and magazine publishing group, Cité has the resources to move boldly in the digital direction.
That digital focus does not mean sidelining its traditional publishing segment. Cité is responsible for introducing Kenichi Ohmae and Peter Drucker to Taiwan. It also publishes James Hunter’s The Servant (more than 200,000 copies sold), Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (117,000 copies; still the #1 translated French title in Taiwan), Ray Kluun’s Love Life, and Harlan Coben’s The Woods. In fact, nearly two out of its three new titles are translations.
CEO Fei-Peng Ho is among Cité’s bestselling authors. “His four self-help/career titles average sales of 100,000 copies each, and his newest, Self-Proud V: Be a Noble Gentleman, will be published soon,” Yeh says. “It emphasizes the importance of integrity and self-learning in any profession. We publish many notable homegrown authors, such as Hiyawu, a bestselling e-novelist whose 14 titles averaged sales of 150,000 copies, and martial arts novelist Cheng Fon, widely regarded as the female version of Louis Cha. Our originals, just like our digital products, are made with great care, and the authors are often highly respected professionals in their fields.”
Commonwealth has been introducing important Western thinkers, economists, and scientists to Taiwan readers over the past 29 years. “We view promoting progressive ideas as contributing to society, and we started doing it way back in 1982. Handy, Covey, Charan, Peters, Senge, Wilson, Feynman, you name it,” says deputy managing editor Daisy Yu, whose team will release Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs: A Biography, Julian Assange’s yet-to-be-named book, as well as new Friedman and Ohmae titles in the coming months. Robinson’s Out of Our Minds, Charan’s The Talent Masters, and Feynman’s The Feynman Lectures are out recently.
“Titles such as Getting Organized in the Google Era, Payback Time, and Buy-in are doing well,” says rights manager Violet Cheong. “We have sold more than 37,000 copies of Getting Organized since its November launch. Also, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has sold in excess of 55,000 copies, and local author Stanley Yen’s You Can Be Different and Education Should Be Different have chalked up sales of more than 74,000 and 130,000 copies respectively.” For fiction, new titles such as Nicole Krauss’s Great House, John Verdon’s Think of a Number, David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, and Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand are expected to sell well upon release.
Nearly 70% of Commonwealth’s 2010 list is translated, with more U.S. and Japanese titles slated for this year. Children’s books, around 60 in all, account for one-third of its new catalogue. Kat Fall’s Dark Life and the Horrible Science series are among the new releases.
As for exports, Cheong has been doing brisk business with publishers in Korea and China. She sold My Dear and The Fox’s Moneybag to Korea’s Random House and BooknBean respectively and to China’s Qiangtao Publishing, while Stanley Yen’s two bestsellers went to Shanghai 99 Readers’ Culture.
For now, e-publishing remains on the back burner. Says Yu, “We have started investing in the infrastructure while keeping an eye on the marketplace. E-publishing has yet to arrive in Taiwan, and the majority of e-titles available out there are works in the public domain. We have produced only one e-title, for a mobile service provider, which offers it as a free download to its subscribers.” The rapidly evolving business environment and the changing habits of the younger generation who have grown up with electronic gadgets, she adds, “pose a challenge to the publishing industry in general. We have to find a way to move forward and stay relevant.”
Some major changes have taken place at Flaneur. It now operates as two distinct business units, Flaneur Culture Lab (for books) and Fisfisa (for documentaries). It also has a new CEO, Mei-li Liao, with impressive industry credentials, who has already built up a marketing team to take Flaneur to new heights. Today, its offerings are more broad-based than ever, clearly reflected in Flaneur’s recent bestsellers: Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Home, Demos Chiang’s The Path Under the Cliff, Chuan-fen Chang’s Difficulties in Killing, and Nick Bilton’s I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works.
“We were very experimental in our publishing program, but now we want to ensure our business is at least breaking even while continuing to bring meaningful material to readers,” says Liao. “So Flaneur will continue to publish books on lifestyle and creativity as well as retain our unique program of humanities titles and translations of French classics. Several big titles are due out soon, including Comité Invisible’s L’insurrection qui vient, David Liss’s A Conspiracy of Paper, and Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus.
Her team has recently produced a few beautiful boxed sets, including Louis Vuitton: 100 Malles de Légende and The Manuscripts of Wang Wen-xing. “Wang’s original manuscripts have been kept by the National Taiwan University Library, and few get to see or even appreciate them,” Liao says. “We collaborated with the library and Professor Yi-Peng to produce this special edition, which includes Wang’s major works, Family Catastrophe and Backed against the Sea, and a collection of seminar papers on the study of his manuscripts. But the most outstanding feature, I think, is the 40-hour recording of Wang’s reading of the two novels.” For Liao, publishing an author’s archival materials—manuscripts, sketches, audio, etc.—provides a novel way of giving them a new lease of life.
Over at Fisfisa, its first documentary series, the six-episode The Inspired Island: Series of Eminent Writers from Taiwan (poemmovie.com.tw), made well over $100,000 during its run from April 9 to May 26 at local theaters. With such episodes as The Man Behind the Book, Toward the Completion of a Poem, and The Untrammeled Traveler, the series—poignantly and artistically filmed—uncovers the stories behind each writer’s creative thoughts and processes.
Says Liao, “Moving from print to other media, especially e-books, is inevitable for any publishing house, including us. Even though we have yet to launch any e-books, we are building the necessary groundwork for this new segment. Meanwhile, we endeavor to produce good print books and great documentaries.”
Grimm’s e-reader Tellybear, selling for $320 and launched in November, has been a success with kids and parents alike. “Its ease of use is one major selling point: any three-year-old, which is the target market, can operate it by himself or herself. Then there are our electronic picture books, or ePBs, which are highly animated and visually captivating. Kids can easily use the device for an hour and read about 10 titles,” says founder and publisher K.T. Hao, whose Tellybear comes with 100 Grimm titles. “I firmly believe that children should have their own electronic reading device, and through the process of creating it we keep one question in mind: how to make it attractive and user-friendly to kids.”
Meanwhile, sales of Grimm ePBs on Apple’s App Store (U.S.) have been growing steadily since the first title appeared in June 2010. “Sales are also picking up in mainland China primarily because our bilingual Chinese/English ePBs are exactly what parents want to get their kids to learn English. With pricing, we settled on $2.99 per ePB, a middle ground between the U.S. (where such titles usually go for $4.95) and China (where low pricing is necessary to attract sales).”
Hao is planning “to sell Tellybear, ePBs, and apps on both Apple and Android stores while increasing our brand presence so that more consumers know about us.” He also plans to add 100 new ePBs to the existing 250 over the next 16 months. “Now that we are about done with classic fairy tales, we are starting a new series called Short Story Masterpieces, which will include such stories as Moby-Dick, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Merchant of Venice. Animation will make it easy for kids to follow the story despite their young age. We are also looking into developing interactive applications based on our existing titles.” (Grimm boasts a list of 2,500 titles, mostly originals.)
Currently, its bestselling ePB is One Pizza, One Penny—Grimm’s #1 title with domestic sales exceeding 200,000 copies and six foreign language editions, having been downloaded more than 60,000 times since its launch a year ago. Other top titles include The Steadfast Tin Soldier (40,000 downloads) and Little Stone Buddha (39,000). “Our ePB sales account for one-third of our total revenue, and it will definitely surpass printed books by the end of next year.”
Hsin Yi Foundation
A New Year’s Reunion, winner of the first Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award, is creating a lot of buzz for Hsin Yi. Now in Korean and Japanese, this bestseller will soon be in English (from Walker Books). “A touching story about a little girl’s Chinese New Year reunion with her father, who has been away for a whole year to earn a living in the big city, it is naturally very Chinese and yet also universal,” says executive director Sing-ju Chang. Her six-member team in Nanjing, China, helped Yu Liqiong, a young first-time writer, rework the text over 10 times. “The illustrator, Zhu Chengliang, though famous, had limited experience in picture books, and it took us a while to get the pages right.”
The new Nanjing editorial office has been looking hard for picture book authors and illustrators, and their effort has netted more than 10 titles so far. “This office also functions as our China bureau for the Hsin Yi Picture Book Award, preparing and localizing award-winning titles for publication.”
The Hsin Yi award is now in its 23rd year. “We have three winners from Taiwan this year and two of them have participated in the competition more than seven times. This award—the only one in Taiwan in this segment—offers them not only a benchmark but also a way to challenge themselves.” An animation category was added two years ago for original works or adaptations of previous award-winning titles, with Hopscotch and A Happy Wish grabbing the top prize in 2009 and 2010 respectively. “Many of the entries are from relatively young people, who are great with animation tools and techniques but lack good knowledge about publishing for children. But I’m sure this will improve given time.”
In 2010/2011, three of Hsin Yi’s bestsellers are winners of the award, namely Let’s Get Mung Beans, Momma!; Guji Guji; and Spit the Seed. “Translations such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? continue to be popular. The same goes for novelty titles for under-three, such as Taro Gomi’s Where Is the Fish?”
One of Chang’s big moves this year is to extend her publishing program to cater for 12-year-olds—with originals by Chinese writers such as I Kept My Dad in the Fish Tank and The Emperor Is a Fish—and adding more novelty titles for ages up to three, such as Tullet’s Un Livre and Yonezu’s Moving Blocks and Rainbow Chameleon. “Declining sales is a hard truth, but our Bookstart project, conducted since 2006, is doing well in Taiwan, and sales of our titles for children under three are increasing every year.”
Publisher and editorial director Linden Lin says “introducing foreign writers such as French authors to Taiwan is one of our missions.” He has translated Marcel Proust, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Antonin Artaud, Diderot, Marivaux, Samuel Beckett, Marguerite Duras, and Christian Jacq. Jacq’s Imhotep and Et l’Egypte s’évilla trilogy will be out soon. “In recent months, we have also introduced young French illustrators such as Olivier Tallec, Sandra Poirot Cherif and Nathalie Choux,” he says. For his contributions, France awarded Lin the Order of Arts and Literature early this year.
Lin’s team has just launched Tim Brown’s Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, Howard Schultz’s Onward, and Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers—all Linking’s bestsellers—and is working on Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance. Meanwhile, several originals have traveled abroad, including Beast and a Group of Fish That Look Alike and Gypsy to France, A Taste of Luxury and The Roof to Korea, and several comic titles to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. “We are also doing a copublishing project with Korean children’s publisher Yeowan Media, in which printing is done in Korea and marketing handled by us.” Children’s books make up about 20% of Linking’s catalogue. One notable project is the fully illustrated Global Kids’ Economy Village series, which focuses on one particular country’s economic story in each volume. Around 4,000 sets have been sold since its launch in October 2009.
Meanwhile, the 12-volume History of the Development of the Republic of China is slated for launch in a few weeks. “Covering six subjects—learning and knowledge, politics and the legal system, the economy, society, literature and arts, and education and culture—this is the biggest publishing project to mark Taiwan’s centennial this year,” adds Lin, whose plans for the next 12 months include creating a new team to publish original titles in e-book format and publishing books in English about Taiwan culture, with topics such as style, design, and tea making.
As for digital publishing, Lin has obtained digital rights for about half (around 1,100 titles) of Linking’s list. “About 100 e-books are available, and many more are scheduled,” he says. Linking’s parent company, United Daily News Group, publisher of one of Taiwan’s three biggest newspapers, has more digital publishing efforts.
On the retail side, its subsidiary United Distribution Company operates six stores, which contribute nearly 10% to Linking’s bottom line. One outlet, Shanghai Book Store, specializes in imported books from China. Says Lin, “We bring in new titles three times a month, so Taiwan readers get to read these new works quickly.”
Illustrator/author Jimmy Liao is Locus’s indisputable star, having published 40 of his titles since 2000. “His latest, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, was out in February. Spain’s Barbara Fiore Edition has picked it up along with My Little Perfect World and Jimmy Liao: A Collection. He has been published in 12 foreign languages, including English, French, German, Japanese, and Italian,” says owner Rex How.
Besides Jimmy Liao, Locus boasts quite a long roster of well-known local authors. “Chinlun Lee, a London Royal College of Art graduate, for instance, has produced works such as No. 39 Animal Surgery and Paw in the Surgery. Her newest, Every Day Is a Good Day, was published two months ago. Then there is Miaoju Chang with her humorous and intuitive observations in Fax Diaries, My Life in Seattle, and the Du-ji Private Detective series. Another is Chih-chung Tsai with his cartoons of ancient Chinese classics. We recently published Tsai’s ambitious three-volume Eastern Cosmological Physics, which explains fundamental principles of the universe from an Eastern perspective,” adds How, whose team also published Chinese medicine expert Weikung Wang, food and lifestyle writer Craig Au Yeung, Tibetan author Woeser (Forbidden Memory, Tibet Remembered) and political novelist Lixiong Wang (Yellow Peril, Sky Burial: The Fate of Tibet).
Coming up, Locus will release, among others, Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Allen’s Idea Man, Brashares’s My Name Is Memory, and Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches. Translations remain a big part of Locus’s publishing program. Recent titles (also among its 2010/2011 bestsellers) include Crisis Economics, The Grand Design, the Hunger Games series, the House of Night series, and The Swan Thieves. Five years ago, the rising popularity of nonfiction works on paranormal phenomena prompted How to start a special imprint, trans+, which has since expanded to include horror fiction, like Palahniuk’s Haunted, Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, and Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
In 2010, Locus established a subsidiary, ChineseCUBES, that offers engaging Chinese language-learning programs that use a never-before-seen four-skills methodology enhanced by augmented reality technology. Also, How set up Locus International in the U.S., which has published six titles, including See You in Frankfurt and Life Before Letters by Peter Weidhaas (former Frankfurt Book Fair director), The Sutra of My Heart by Chisung Hung, and three comic titles illustrated by award-winning manga artist Chen Uen (Legend of Assassins and Abi-Sword I and II).
How’s current big project is Classics 3.0 for Children. “The first 100-title series of selected Chinese classics is set for launch at the end of the year. This is also aimed at the overseas market, where interest in Chinese language and culture has picked up in recent years.”
Transmission Books and Microinfo Co.
Guided by the motto “learning has no boundary, technology has no limits,” TBMC has been specializing in online databases and digital resources since its inception in 1981. Subscribers to its 50-odd products include Princeton, George Washington University, and University of London. Over the past decade, it has also subscribed to raw data from the U.S. National Archives, and from ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center), for producing a Chinese online edition with 1.4 million entries.
Japan is currently TMBC’s biggest overseas market, and it has had various collaborations with Japanese institutions and organizations on unique projects. “For instance, we produced a database on Chinese classics for Tokyo University and another on old Chinese books kept in Japan for Kyoto University,” says chairman Felix Chu. His team also collaborated with Tokyo-based Yumani Bookstore to convert more than 340 rolls of microfilm of Taiwan Nichinichi Sinpou (1898–1945), the most widely circulated newspaper in Taiwan during the Japanese occupation. The digital version, containing three million records, has been sold to Hong Kong, China, the U.S., and many organizations in Taiwan.
“One landmark project is the Taoist Canon, widely regarded as the Taoism encyclopedia and compiled in 1445 during the reign of Emperor Zhengtong. This resource is a must-read for anyone interested in the East and Taoism.” Chu’s team also collaborated with CommonWealth Magazine, a publication recognized for its authoritative coverage of both global and regional economic and political developments. “It is a storehouse of information on Taiwan’s culture, economy, and politics. We supply all the issues—from 1981 to the present day—in e-journal format. More than 100 educational and government organizations subscribe to it.” Another major project is the CD-ROM version of Kangxi Dictionary, which was the standard Chinese dictionary of the 18th and 19th centuries and has more than 47,000 characters.
The biggest challenges to companies in this segment, says Chu, are “the availability of free and easily downloadable resources on the Internet as well as the release of large amounts of archival data by governments worldwide. At the same time, recruitment is tough. Aside from having an in-depth understanding of different content types and readers’ needs, senior staff must be expert in digital platforms, devices and technologies.”
TBMC is focusing on developing and marketing e-books while aggressively expanding its subscription base in the region. “At the Asian Online Conference and Exhibition in Hong Kong several months ago,” Chu says, “we signed an e-book project with Hong Kong University Press, with the products to be launched over the next few months. Several other big e-projects, including one on a spatiotemporal comparison database, are also in the works.”
This is the home of Percy Jackson (and Carter and Sadie Kane) in Taiwan. So popular is Rick Riordan’s mythical world that five Percy Jackson and the Olympians titles, with sales totaling 460,000 copies, are among Yuan-Liou’s 2010/2011 bestsellers. The first title of the sequel series, the Heroes of Olympus, released in July, has already sold more than 42,000 copies. Also on the bestseller list is Tina Seelig’s What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. “We are working on Porter’s The Price of Everything, Baker’s Final Jeopardy, Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, and Jacobson’s Finkler Question,” says Max Lin, director of research, development and rights. “Speed—and, of course, quality—counts a lot in this business. For instance, for Jim Roger’s A Gift to My Children, we managed to get our edition out ahead of the English original and have sold 100,000 copies of it.”
So it should not come as a surprise that translations take up about half of Yuan-Liou’s catalogue, which boasts such blockbuster authors as John Grisham, Michael Crichton, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and Patricia Highsmith. “We translated bestsellers Hannah Pakula’s The Last Empress and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last year,” says Lin, who has obtained the rights to the latest in the Bond series, Carte Blanche. With 22 in-house editors (in four divisions) and a pool of reputable translators, the company adds about 180 to 200 new titles every year.
For original works, two are currently flying high. One is Seediq Bale (“real man” in the Seediq language), which depicts the tribe’s trials and tribulations during the Japanese occupation. “Half of this six-volume series has been published, and Fortissimo is due to premiere the film soon. The other title, Circling the Mount, is also being turned into a movie. This story, about the 20-something author’s cycling tour to Tibet, has sold more than 100,000 copies,” says general manager Chuan-li Lee, whose roster of bestselling homegrown authors includes Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha, the renowned martial arts novelist), Hong Lan (psychologist and author of eight parenting titles), Jiang Xun (an aesthetics and lifestyle writer), Shiang-hui Wu, Ke-xian Liu, and Lin Xi.
Adds Lee, “We have collaborated with manufacturer ViewSonic and technology company Koobe Inc. to digitize Jin Yong’s 15 novels and load them on an e-book reader. This bundle sells for about $500.” Meanwhile, 16 children’s titles—four English language titles and the Chinese Children’s Illustrated Folktales series—have been turned into iPhone apps. “In total, our e-publishing program has about 2,000 titles, and more are coming.”