A new outbreak of Covid-19 cases at a local hospital effectively derailed the planned in-person segment of the 2021 Taipei International Book Fair, which ran from January 26 to 31 under the theme “Reading in the Time of a Pandemic.”

Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture called off the physical fair shortly before it was set to open. The ministry had hoped to use the fair to give the country's domestic publishing and bookselling industries a boost by distributing 200,000 coupons—each valued at NT$100 (or $3.47)—to all fair visitors. But because of the Covid outbreak, all large-scale public events ahead of the upcoming week-long Chinese New Year holiday have now been canceled. (Thus far, the island has 911 Covid cases and only eight deaths due to Covid-19. But it reported its first Covid-19 death in eight months on Saturday and more than 4,000 people are now under quarantine.)

The cancellation made all TIBE-related events go virtual. Korea, the 2021 guest of honor, offered Exhibit XYZ to introduce Korean books on—and by—generations X, Y, and Z, focusing on common issues the different generations face, including gender inequality (i.e., the XX and XY gap) and environmental crises. Tohan Corp., one of the biggest copyright agencies in Japan, put together titles from 10 publishers and presented several author talks in the Japan Books Meet-up. Italy came in with two major exhibitions: Illustrators for Gianni Rodari: Italian Excellence, which offered 63 illustrations to mark the centennial birthday of Rodari, the first Italian writer to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and Manga Made in Italy to highlight around 10 significant works published in the 2010s by millennial Italian authors.

There were also a number of educational forums and talks, among them: The Frankfurt Publishers’ Training Program (focusing on social media marketing and licensing); International Publishing Forum (imagining the post-pandemic era); Children’s Book Forum (featuring nonfiction picture books); and Book Design Forum (elaborating on future trends). The Spanish Market Introduction offered a look at the Spanish book market with a general introduction to the Guadalajara International Book Fair. There were also digital business matchmaking sessions with publishers from countries such as Chile, Germany, and Korea.

“The participants of the International Publishing Forum were mostly from Taiwan and Korea, and pandemic-related publishing phenomenon was a hot topic,” said Michelle Tu, senior coordination manager at the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, the organizer of TIBE. Publications on religion/spirituality and interior decorating are on the rise in Korea, Tu said. In Taiwan, where the pandemic is largely contained, Tu said the publishers are focusing on the impact of BookTubers, podcasters, and different social media platforms in propelling the publishing industry forward. Overall, Tu said, the Taiwan publishing industry has remained stable, publishing roughly the same number of new titles—about 36,000—in both 2019 and 2020.

Virtual TIBE also offered a Book Show segment, featuring titles for possible rights deals from companies such as Arena Verlag, Bonnier Books (U.K.), Clavis, DK, Quarto Group, and Thames & Hudson—all familiar names from previous TIBEs. Authors from near and far participated in livestreamed Book Presentation, including Raffaella Castagna (talking about her title Artist’s Cats), Maria Lazarova (Emma and Pink Whales), Suzy Lee (from Korea), and Amitav Ghosh (India). There were also virtual talks by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer and Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro,.

“The segments featuring Japanese novelist Keiichiro Hirano, Korean illustrator Suzy Lee, and our Digital Minister Audrey Tang were among the most viewed,” said Tu. “So was the talk about the future of reading by Zhan Hongzhi, the chairman of PC Home Online, who is a cultural icon in Taiwan.”

In total, there were 454 exhibitors, 161 of which came from overseas. This marked the second time in-person TIBE was canceled due to the pandemic. Last year, the fair was rescheduled from February to May before the in-person portion was eventually scrapped and replaced by a full virtual program.

TIBE remains one of the major book events in the region and is popular with international publishers looking to sell rights and connect with attendees from neighboring areas. The last time TIBE was held in person, in 2019, there were more than 580,000 visitors and over 730 exhibitors.

The 30th edition of TIBE is tentatively scheduled towards the end of January 2022.