After falling 2.8% in 2020, book sales in Taiwan increased 5% last year, to NT$20.04 billion (about $690 million). Sales growth was aided by a nearly 65% jump in book output in 2021 over 2020, with 57,710 new titles published in 2021, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture.
The top five categories dominating the new publications list were the same as in previous years: literature titles (22.0%), social studies (18.6%), art (16.5%), applied sciences (12.7%), and children’s books (6%). In 2020, 35,041 new titles were published—the lowest in 20 years—marking a 4.8% slide from the previous year that reflected the conservative stance taken by publishers during the pandemic.
There are currently 4,694 publishing houses and 2,061 bookstores serving 23.4 million people in Taiwan.
E-book sales had risen during the pandemic but still accounted for less than 2% of the total book market in 2021. As for audiobooks, sales are growing fast and largely influenced by the popularity of podcasts. Readmoo, Taiwan’s #1 e-book platform, reported that sales of its audio titles grew 93% last year, led by literary novels, children’s books, and self-help/inspirational titles.
While revenues at bricks-and-mortar bookstores suffered during the pandemic, online book sales grew. For 26-year-old Books.com, Taiwan’s biggest online book retailer whose unique distribution model piggybacks on the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, the volume of direct home deliveries (instead of store pick-ups) increased significantly as people stayed indoors. The platform, which sells around 15 million copies of books annually, saw sales jump by nearly 70% between 2019 and 2021. Children’s/YA titles, business and finance books, and literary fiction were its three bestselling categories.
Online Sales During the Pandemic
The pandemic has changed reading and book-buying patterns, said Eva Liu, Books.com’s team manager for book sales. “In the early stages of the pandemic, for instance, sales of children’s books were primarily game- and activity-based titles to keep the young ones entertained while they were forced to stay home. But when schools continued to be closed in 2021, the focus moved to pop-science, STEAM, and language learning titles as parents wanted to ensure that their children were keeping up with their lessons and getting ready for school reopening.”
Sales of inspirational, self-help, and psychology titles grew 40% in the first quarter of 2021 at Books.com compared to the same period a year earlier. “Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse topped the bestseller chart in this category during the period. Sales of titles on interpersonal and family relationships as well as those related to health, cooking, and at-home exercises also grew as people stayed home,” added Liu, whose team promptly set up an Elementary School Reference Books section and invited psychologists to host talks on its platform and recommend titles.
Meanwhile, audiobooks have become a new way of reading (and learning) with one in every five Taiwanese people of listening to podcasts. “The pandemic pushed this trend further and so we launched new services and subscription-based models focused on audiobooks and video courses last November,” said Liu. In addition Liu said Books,com's e-book sales grew double-digit during the pandemic, "driven by purchases made by young readers, mostly 19- to 22-year-olds, who are more digital-savvy."
Taiwan’s declining birthrate—one of the lowest in the world—has driven parents to invest even more in their children with increased spending on educational titles. “Taiwan’s new 108 Curriculum Education System, which was launched in 2019, adopts a holistic educational path that advocates reading literacy, applying knowledge to daily life, and problem solving,” explained Liu. “This has pushed the growth and sales of knowledge-based publications such as pop-science, mathematics, and nature.”
Comics and graphic novels, especially those from Japan, remain a strong segment in the Taiwanese book market. Five anime series—Ghost Slayer, Attack on Titan, Curse Return, Volleyball Boys, and One Piece—topped Books.com’s 2021 chart. “We sold over 800 copies of these series daily, and all 23 volumes of Ghost Slayer went straight onto the bestseller list after the animated feature was released at the end of 2020,” Liu added. “Tatsuya Endo’s Spy x Family is currently the #1 manga series on our platform; the sales increased five-fold after its anime broadcast in April.”
The popularity of these titles prompted Books.com to start a Japanese Books category on its platform last month. "Sales of Japanese titles on our site have grown in the last three consecutive years. The launch of an anime store is also in the pipeline. We will curate blogs, materials, and publications related to Chinese, English, Japanese anime and manga, for instance, under one roof for our members,” Liu said.
On Books.com’s translated bestseller list for 2021, James Clear’s Atomic Habits, Howard Marks’s The Most Important Thing Illuminated, Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money, Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad, and Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack were among the top 10 titles. In the children’s segment, Toshio Iwai’s 100-Story Home in the Forest, Troll’s Butt Detective series, and Reiko Hiroshima’s Magic Orange Shop lead the bestseller chart.