At the 31st edition of the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE), running from January 31 to February 5, floor traffic appeared comparable to its last pre-pandemic fair of 2019. Long queues formed wherever authors were signing their books or giving talks. Parents and children, now on their spring/Chinese New Year school break, were out in full force. Publishers and literary agents were busy meeting face-to-face while donning the mandatory masks. The France, Germany, Japan, and Korea pavilions are as big and busy as before the pandemic while DK, Quarto Group, and Thames & Hudson have their own booths with packed shelves.
At the opening ceremony, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen mentioned the 33 countries participating at this year’s TIBE while highlighting the importance of creating original content and promoting a vibrant independent bookselling industry domestically. She also likened the joy of reading a new book to that of an astronaut exploring a hitherto unknown planet, aptly alluding to this year’s TIBE theme of “The Multiverse of Reading," which is about celebrating the infinite power of reading.
Poland, the guest of honor, offers three special exhibitions, including Captain of Illustration, curated by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, that features a selection of classic Polish children’s books and illustrations and “Seven Wonders of the World," organized by Manuscriptum, a Warsaw-based publisher of rare books and antiquities, that showcases, among others, the Papyrus of Ani, Voynich manuscript, a Gutenberg Bible, and the Codex Leicester. The Polish contingent also includes eight well-known authors such as Andrzej Sapkowski, author of The Witcher series, and Witold Szablowski, author of Dancing Bears and How to Feed a Dictator.
Out of the five special TIBE exhibits, the Ho Hi Yan: Sea Majestic pavilion offers children and parents the opportunity to explore the vast and strange underwater world through 3D installations, graphic images, and selected written works. Each of the 16 panels in the exhibit highlights a unique marine creature, including the humpback whale, nautilus, flying fish, jellyfish, and horseshoe crab. Other special exhibits include “Craftsmanship/Memory of Publishing” and “Reading Construction Site” (on returning to pre-pandemic normalcy).
Isabella Wu, chairperson of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, which co-organizes TIBE, noted that “Inflation and supply chain issues due to the pandemic affect everybody. Given that Taiwan publishers continue to produce between 35,000 and 40,000 new titles every year, the average reader has so many choices but less time to read after watching YouTube videos and podcasts. Now with the inflation, they have relatively less disposable income to buy books.” But, Wu said, “books are indispensable and will continue to occupy a special niche in the hearts of readers. So publishers need to transform and tweak their programs to help authors to create the right type of content and format to reach their audience. The industry also needs to shift from a sales focus to one that is about encouraging and promoting reading. The latter will create new generations of readers to keep the publishing and bookselling industries stable, strong, and vibrant.”
History, self-help dominate sales
Sales were good for Linking Publishing during the pandemic, according to publisher Linden Lin. “But towards the end of 2022, with inflation, the Ukraine conflict, and cross-strait tension with China, we saw sales slowing down," he said. "However, the good news is that we are still in business. In fact, all the local publishers are still here and that says a lot about our persistence and faith in the industry as a whole.” Linking is known for its history titles and the three books from Alexander V. Pantsov, one each on Chiang Kai-shek, Deng Xiaoping, and Mao Zedong) are dominating its bestseller chart.
Devoted readers are out there despite the tech gadgets and social media, said publisher Rex How of Locus Publishing. “But these book lovers demand quality and interesting content. For us, a diversified publishing program means having the ability to fulfill different reading needs.” Last year, after writing a personal letter to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, How and his team compiled the best of Zelenskyy’s speeches and messages into an instant bestseller, In These, We Believe. Other bestsellers include Ryo Tatsuki’s The Future I See (based on her precognitive dreams), Hsiang-ling Huang’s The Plant Lover and Whisper of the Orchids, Chang Sheng’s graphic novel Yan, and Egret Liu’s environmental title Somewhere (which has been sold to Korean publisher Little Starfield).
In general, inspirational, self-help, and psychology titles dominated the 2022 bestseller lists at both online book retailer Books.com and chain bookstore Eslite. James Clear’s Atomic Habits, Robert de Board’s Counseling for Toads, Ichiro Kishimi’s The Courage to Be Disliked, and Howard Marks’s The Most Important Thing Illuminated were among the bestselling translated titles at Books.com.tw, a Taiwanese online bookseller. Self-help and psychology titles represented half of the bestsellers at Books.com.tw, as well as Eslite, last year. Celebrity books, language learning, literature, and finance titles took up the rest of the pie. Some 35,000 new e-book titles were made available at Books.com.tw last year, marking the first time the number of digital titles exceeded new print titles since the company was formed 27 years ago.