Despite an emergence of book events in mainland China, the now 24-year-old Taipei Book Fair continues to remain a go-to trade show. This year's event, running February 16-21, featured the theme of “Reading the World” and counted exhibitions from 66 countries.
What the Taiwan book industry lacks in size, comparing it to the neighboring market in China, it makes up for in vibrancy. Taiwan, an island of 23.5 million people has roughly 100 active publishers that produce some 40,000 new titles a year. China, which has a population of 1.25 billion, produces only 440,000 new titles a year. It's in part Taiwan's impressive title output that has kept the nation's book industry, and book fair, an attractiven event to overseas publishers.
Hungary, the guest of honor at this yeat's fair, brought titles from 700 of its publishers to the fair. Zsuzsanna Szabo, project manager for Publishing Hungary, called the event a "great opportunity to present Hungarian culture, literature, music and gastronomy to this part of the world."
Few American publishers, save educational presses with offices on the island, attended the show. This is largely because most small and mid-sized houses have been using local companies to both represent and distribute their titles, namely B.K. Norton and Bookman.
A number of American titles are displayed at the combined Bookman/B.K. Norton booth. “Adult readers in Taiwan tend to go for titles that are insightful and intellectually challenging," said Jerome Su, owner of both Bookman and B.K. Norton. Nonetheless, they do seem interested in the same fads as readers elsewhere. To that end, Su said that adult coloring books have been very popular in Taiwan the last year. He noted that some local publishers sold upwards of 500,000 copies of adult coloring books within six months of publication.
For first-time exhibitor Rowohlt, the German publisher of Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, the fair offered a chance to promoted new titles. One, Martin Walser’s Ein Liebender Mann (translated in English as A Loving Man), was just published in Taiwan. “We sell about six to 10 titles per year to Taiwanese publishers,” said foreign rights manager Susanne Begemann.
Bardon Chinese Media Agency's David Tsai, said he thinks there's been a shifting interest among Taiwanese readers. "Previously, self-help and finance titles were the popular genres. Nowadays, publishers are more interested in titles about history, governance, democracy, equality and 21st-century capitalism." He illustrated his point by naming two recent bestsellers in Taiwan: Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape, and Peter Thiel’s Zero to One.
Rights manager Nerrilee Weir at Penguin Random House Australia said a slow-down in the Taiwan economy has adversely affected his house's rights sales. “Publishers are buying fewer titles and becoming very selective," he said. "Books that would have a chance to be sold to Taiwan four years ago are now no longer attractive to the market."
Unlike publishers in China, who want "bestsellers and award winners," Taiwan publishers want books with "literary merit," Weir said. She also noted that her house has seen more local success with children's books. “We have sold more children’s books than adult titles to Taiwan publishers. And although we have sold more to China in the past three to four years than to Taiwan, this market and its annual fair remain important to us."