DK's group sales and marketing director David Holmes predicts that "the growth in sales will come in selling direct in all countries, because the days are gone when bookstores are the only source of books."

Taiwan has long been a strong market for direct sales of sets of children's books into homes and schools. Because of this link to its consumers, publishers here can experiment with other media more easily.

Robert Lin of Children Publications Co. Ltd. thrives on door-to-door and direct mail for his books for young children and other related products. He packages his books along with videos and calendars, plush toys and CD-ROMs. "I set up this company four years ago because I saw a vacuum in the market for this kind of thing," says Lin.

Senseio launched the first children's book club in Taiwan this year. Little Book World has had a good response so far. The Hsin Yi Foundation reaches 35,000 families through its parenting magazine and 600,000 children through counseling, lectures, seminars, Web sites and activities. Hsin Yi's massive door-to-door operation accounts for 35% of sales, equal to its trade sales.

The Far East Book Co. Ltd. has developed a variety of media and sales methods for its English- and Chinese-language reading materials, including CD-ROMs. Publishing mainly dictionaries for half a century, Far East is "thriving on the expansion," according to marketing manager Claire Wu, who hints the company may begin buying foreign materials for the local market.

A specialist in home learning materials for 50 years, Kwang Fu Book Enterprises Co. Ltd. has dabbled more than most in Taiwan with CD-ROM, including licenses with DK, Scholastic, Oxford University Press and Gallimard. Kwang Fu began by selling these through its retail channels, including of course bookstores and music stores. Like most who have tried this, it failed. Then two years ago Kwang Fu asked its own massive direct sales division, 563 strong, to add these electronic products to their demonstrations, using laptop computers.

It worked, according to Hung Wei Lin, son of the president and now special assistant to his father. In the last year Kwang Fu has sold 5000 sets of eight to 10 disks, 40,000 CD-ROMs altogether, door-to-door.

"We have over 100 sets of books we sell direct now," says Lin, "and most of them include CD-ROMs. So people can get used to them as an information and educational medium." More CD-ROMs are planned, including a new product, Learn & Play, designed for young beginners to learn basic English through CD-ROMs and other materials.

Last December, the Taiwan Government launched a special program putting one computer in each classroom and allocating nearly $7000 per school for software. With a strong school channel already, Kwang Fu now has the break it needed. "Having invested so heavily in CD-ROMs, we are now in the best position to supply educational product for this program," says Lin.

In a recent study, the 1998 Report on Taiwan Publishing Market, by the Council for Cultural Affairs Executive Yuan, more than 3500 Web users were surveyed and 20% said they bought books online. Of books purchased, 20% were computer-science related and 14% involved literature and art. More than 80% of purchases were through Chinese-language Web sites, and the buyer profile favored a single male in his late 20s with a strong academic background.

One of the country's top publishers, Yuan Liou, and the first to sell from its own Web site, sold five million books last year, up 20% from 1997, according to vice-president Eric (Chuan-Li) Lee. As the first publisher to build a Web site and develop e-commerce in Taiwan, Lee agrees enthusiastically with DK's Holmes on its future as a selling tool. So far, though, sales online have been stronger in trade books than in children's.

Yuan Liou joined forces with other major players, China Times, Commonwealth and Kwang Fu this year, to offer a "Book Fair on the Net". For a month following the show in February consumers could get the same special discounts offered at TIBE99 by ordering online.

Kwang Fu also launched a major new effort in distance learning. Kwang Fu Happy Land Cyber-school allows students to study via the Internet, or by fax if they have no access to a computer. It includes reference books and online materials. The courses are mainly for helping junior high school student to pass their national exams, but they are also teaching fun things, like how to draw comics. Such mixtures of education and entertainment have proven the key to the popularity of cyberspace activities elsewhere, and is working in Taiwan as well.

Retailing and the English-Language Market
China Times will not be the only book-related company to go public, but the other three announcing plans to do so are all local bookstore chains -- Kingstone, Senseio and Eslite. And they will be facing another competitor this summer-France's FNAC, the specialist retailer that combines books, music, photography and electronic goods in an international chain on three continents.
FNAC's Taiwan store, which opens this month, will be the first of four planned in Taiwan, and the firm's first foray outside a romance-language country. Of the 100,000 titles planned, 20% will be in English, according to general manager Christophe Fond.

FNAC will have high standards to beat when it comes to the cultural activities of Eslite, the marketing prowess of Kingstone and the children's learning orientation of Senseio. But Fond cites the success of another French chain, Carrefour, whose Walmart-style retailing concept has mushroomed into 20 stores in Taiwan in the last eight years, with 20 more planned.

Even with these giant retailers, and books in Chinese sold through a wide variety of channels, the sale of books in English in Taiwan remains a very personal business. Major publishing houses in the U.S. have their own offices in Taiwan for academic and educational titles they market directly to professors and schools.

The trade operations tend to have international sales reps sweeping the region, keeping their retail customers abreast of the latest retailing trends and promoting forthcoming titles, as well as taking orders. PW saw several of them at TIBE99, including Michelle Morrow Curreri, until recently director of Asia sales for Time Warner Trade Publishing. She calls Taiwan "one of the bright spots in the market" in Asia for her wide-ranging lists. "Visual titles are usually the first to be a hit in a recession," she says. "But English-language training and children's readers are growing, with English being increasingly taught in the primary schools."

Also with visual titles, Rockport Publishers in Gloucester, Mass., took a stand at TIBE99 with U.K. parent Quarto's Australian marketing operation. Sonja Ritchie Merz, in charge of international sales and foreign rights, says she can justify a booth because of the two hats she wears. In three years in the job she has made seven trips to Taiwan, which is her number one market now for book sales, topping South Korea in 1998.

No one knows the English-language book market in Taiwan better than Jerome C. Su of Bookman Books. He reports that while the macro-economics in Taiwan have not been so good the last few years, "the market has been good for us. People are eager for self-improvement during a crisis."