The six-day Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) kicked off on February 12 with participation from 735 publishing houses and a roster of more than 1,000 events to promote reading and book-related activities.
The theme, “Time for Reading”, is about getting people to read any time, anywhere. As James Chao, chairman of the Taipei International Book Exhibition (and of China Times Publishing), pointed out during the opening ceremony, “when people say they do no have time to read a book, it is no longer just a problem for publishers or booksellers. It becomes a societal issue.” So TIBE in recent years has “evolved to become less about selling and more about promoting reading. It is about getting publishers and booksellers together to find ways to collaborate and create lifelong readers,” Chao added.
Germany returns as the guest of honor for a second time at TIBE; the first was in 1998. The 414-square-meter open-concept “German Stories” pavilion, co-organized by Frankfurt Buchmesse and Goethe-Institut Taipei, seeks to facilitate one-to-one interaction between visiting German authors/publishers and TIBE visitors,said Jürgen Boos, CEO and director of Frankfurt Buchmesse, who travelled to Taipei with 13 authors, including Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo), Ferdinand von Schirach (The Collini Case), and Sebastian Fitzek (The Nightwalker). “We are looking to forge closer German-Taiwanese relations, one that was started by Taiwanese students who went to Germany to further their studies back in 1970s, and later by former Buchmesse director Peter Wiedhaas through his friendships with many Taiwanese publishers.” Last year, German publishers sold 107 titles to Taiwan.
Overall, the Taiwan book market has stabilized in recent years. This came after its total book sales declined 46%, from $1.14 billion to $617.9 million, between 2012 and 2015.
Children’s book segment remains the brightest spot with publishers from different backgrounds jumping onto the bandwagon, said Sing-ju Chang, CEO of Hsin-Yi Foundation, which set up Taiwan’s first publishing house dedicated to picture books and learning materials for young children back in 1971.
The adult book market , however, is in the doldrums, according to Jerome Su, managing director of B.K. Norton, an agent for major American houses and university presses. “But the children’s book segment has continued to grow and so have English-language teaching titles. Fifty years ago, Taiwanese parents and teachers wanted sentence- and vocabulary-based materials to help their children and students to obtain high scores in exams. Today, together with changes in education policy, new methods in learning English and courses in STEM and STEAM are gaining popularity.” Su, who publishes children’s and language learning titles under the Bookman imprint, has sold more than 1,000 copies of the bilingual English-Chinese Macmillan English Dictionary within the first month of its launch. Other translated titles, especially the Highlights series and Scholastic titles, continue to do very well.
Novels, said Rex How, owner and publisher of Locus Publishing, are not getting much attention unlike five or six years ago. “Local works are becoming more popular while more comics and picture books are going international,” he said. One of How’s biggest exports is Jimmy Liao, Taiwan’s renowned author-illustrator, whose books—including The Sound of Colors, The Blue Stone, and When the Moon Forgot—have been translated by more than 176 overseas publishers. “Taiwan-specific works are also getting noticed overseas,” added How, who was surprised when one of his graphic novels about local events (Sean Chung’s ‘80s Diary in Taiwan) was bought by French, German, and Italian publishers. “It debunked what I thought would work—and be acceptable—in overseas markets.”
Taiwan, with 23.5 million people, has a vibrant publishing industry with 4,987 publishers producing 40,401 new titles in 2017, of which 9,716 were translations. In the first six months of 2018, out of the 17,171 new titles, 35% was literature and fiction while 11% were children’s books and YA titles. Last year, the biggest seller at Eslite, Taiwan’s biggest chain bookstore, was Dan Brown’s Origin while over at online powerhouse books.com.tw, David Cho’s New TOIEC Vocabulary ruled the chart.