The Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE), which just concluded its February 1-6 run, brought together representatives from more than 60 countries on its 20th anniversary. Recently re-elected President Ma Ying-Jeou opened the book fair with a spirited speech about the state of book publishing in Taiwan as a cause for national pride.

For an island of under 23 million people, President Ma described the book output of some 40,000-45,000 titles as remarkable compared to Mainland China’s output of 140,000-150,000 and a population of 1.3 billion. Estimates vary of the number of translated works and run as high as 80%-90% of output, with half of those originating in the English language. The American Institute in Taiwan represents U.S. exporters, including publishers, and works closely with the Commerce Department's Commercial Service. According to the AIT's director, William A. Stanton, the Taiwan office has led all the other Commercial Service's offices around the world in making business connections two of the last three years and placed second last year. The Commercial Service's Gold Key Matching Service assists in making these connections for a smallish fee. Stanton said: “Mainland China has 57 times the population of Taiwan but only three times as much trade [imports] with the U.S.”

With more than 700 publishers participating, the fair has grown from its roots as a professional exhibition into a six-day consumer affair with more than 500 events and exhibitions related to the celebration of books. E-books have been a slow starter here as tastes and technology await product and industry buy-in. Traditionally, publishers have not acquired e-book rights and now face the task of renegotiation in order to enter the market. Nevertheless, exciting prospects are on the horizon. The Taiwan government has funded the creation of the Taiwan Digital Publishers Forum, a nonprofit entity, chaired by Cité CEO Fei-Peng Ho, with 2 billion NTD ($666 million). TDPF launched, a cloud-based presentation of a select group of e-book titles. Mr. Ho reported that all of the large device manufacturers are participating in this industry effort. He expects that Taiwan is as much as five years behind U.S. developments in e-books, but will fully embrace the opportunity the format presents.

The International Publishers Forum was hosted by Linden Lin of Linking Publishing Company and attended by some 200 participants. There were three keynote speeches--my own, "Digital Publishing in the U.S., Lessons Learned and Implications for Emerging Markets," along with those by Juergen Boos, president of the Frankfurt Book Fair, who provided 10 challenges for the future of publishing, and Rémi Gimazane, of France’s Conservateur des Bibliotheques, who spoke about the digital publishing environment in France. There, the government regulates publishers' prices via a fixed-price scheme that protects publishers from retailer discounts in excess of 5%. On the other hand, e-books’ recent emergence has been penalized by a higher VAT tax as e-books are, oddly, considered a service rather than a product, resulting in much higher taxation (19.5% vs. 5.5%).

The fair was held in three halls, with the lively and wildly popular Comics Festival, which had lines of enthusiasts wrapped around the block, housed in its own building; children’s publishing was located in yet another. This year’s theme of “Green Reading” included a display of eco-friendly e-books and cloud storage that had the unintended consequence of disdaining print, a wholly renewable resource. This year’s guest country was France and at a dinner on Monday, Chairman Jung-Wen Wang announced that Belgium would be next year’s guest. Leo Beeckman, the grants and project manager of the Belgian Ministry of Culture’s book effort, was there to celebrate the announcement. A special focus on “Books Meets Film” included a presentation by Hollywood producer and Open Road Integrated Media Co-founder Jeffery Sharp, whose films include Boy’s Don’t Cry, Nicholas Nickelby, and Proof. He explained the appeal of working from a book rather than an original screenplay, the promotional synergies it affords and the shortened time line to completion. He mentioned four Open Road titles that are in varying states of TV and film development including Mary Glickman's Home in the Morning, Moon Shot, William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness, and Andrea J. Buchanan’s Gift, a YA title in development for TV.

Industrywide, books are a reliable source of film production in the U.S.; from 1995 to 2011, 4,206 films originated from original screenplays whereas 1,307 (21.9%) with a total box office of $41 billion dollars came from books, Sharp said. He noted that last year five of 10 nominees for the Academy Award best picture were from books including tje winner, The King’s Speech, and this year six of nine are.

The U.S. Pavilion at TIBE was hosted by the AIT and included the American Collective. Janet Fritsch, president, says, “Most established publishers have their contacts and agents in Taiwan for many years now. However, there is real potential for finding ways to introduce U.S. digital content, and TIBE seems like the logical choice” to make contacts. Jon Malinowski, president of Combined Book Exhibit, was at the fair to launch (PW is a partner) in Taiwan with local affiliate Naoko Lee of Lee’s Agency. A series of meetings at AIT and at the booth were met with enthusiastic response, including commitments from at least one of the top publishers in Taiwan. Says Malinowski, “Our new e-book display platform for trade fairs went over very well with the Taiwan e-tailers and publishers. We plan to showcase it at TIBE in 2013. Ezread, ebookTaiwan, and Lai Lai Book Company, who are agents on the print side, are all looking for content to sell to this market and in some cases, to Mainland China. For those publishers who don't have a sales agent here, there is a lot of potential, especially for children's educational materials.”

Scholastic Asia had the largest presence among U.S. publishers and chose to be a part of the U.S. Pavilion rather than in the separate children’s hall. Frank Wong, president of Scholastic Asia, reported that it has nearly 2,000 employees in Asia, including Taiwan, and a significant presence in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, India, and mainland China (Beijing & Shanghai). The most recent expansion includes the newly acquired Learners Publishing (an English-language learning supplemental publisher) in Singapore that is a new market opportunity for Scholastic that it is actively integrating now. Asked about the future of e-books in Asia, Wong saw it as an opportunity to have the company's titles in place, when and where they are desired. He explained: “Asia is a very fragmented market. For example, just consider the differences between Indian and Chinese markets. Trying to find a particular book at the particular time it's needed is like trying to win the lottery. E-books will extend the titles everywhere.” Linda Warfel, Scholastic v-p of education and trade, Asia Pacific, added, “Though the [Asian] market is fragmented by the rich culture and history of each country, the common denominator is English language learning.” Scholastic has aggressively paired its vast list with parental guides and educational tools.

The Taiwan market is a small but robust one with many opportunities for U.S. publishers and, depending on cross-strait negotiations, could well serve as a gateway to the mainland. See PW’s recent, more in-depth report on the Taiwan publishing scene on