Fri, Feb 07, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Tough customers

Taiwanese publishers struggle to woo a pint-sized, hard-to-please crowd

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

Imported titles like these dominate the local children’s book market.

Photo: Enru Lin, Taipei Times

Following his talk at the 2014 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE, 台北國際書展) yesterday, Pablo de la Vega of New York’s Indent Literary Agency was quickly swarmed.

“Ask him if I can e-mail him my manuscript,” a woman standing second in a growing line says in Mandarin. Behind her, another woman nods. “Mine, too.”

Each year, TIBE is a major hotspot for rights buying and selling. For local authors of original children’s books, TIBE offers a portal into foreign markets — as well as a lifeline out of what is one of the more challenging segments of Taiwan’s book industry.


Despite private and public awards aimed at supporting local authors, as well as trade fairs like TIBE, the children’s literature sector is working with a small domestic market that only continues to shrink due to a low birthrate.

Other factors chip away at the market, including an increasingly tech-savvy and tech-preferring youth set and the phenomenon of cross-generational child-rearing, says Tony Peng (彭隆志), who manages GoForEnglish, a nationwide children’s monthly.

“Some parents need to work in Taipei and leave their children with grandparents in the south,” he says.

“Those kids tend to watch a great deal of TV and don’t develop the habit of reading.”

Another factor that hurts the children’s lit industry is the preference for imported picture books, according to the manager of Children’s Publications (青林國際出版).

The 20-year-old publishing house seeks out and publishes a small stable of local authors. But the titles that sell best are translated imports, so those dominate the catalog, says manager Ada Huang (黃佁禎).

Huang says Japanese picture books are popular on the strength of their cute illustrations. American books do well, too.

Exhibition notes:

WHAT: 2014 Taipei International Book Exhibition (台北國際書展)

WHERE: Taipei World Trade Center (台北世界貿易中心) Hall 1 (一館), 5, Xinyi Rd Sec 5, Taipei City (台北市信義路五段5號) and Hall 3 (三館), 6 Songshou Rd, Taipei (台北市松壽路6號)

WHEN: Today and tomorrow from 10am to 10pm, Sunday from 10am to 8pm, Monday from 10am to 6pm

ADMISSION: Regular admission is NT$100; discount admission for students, senior citizens and caretakers of disabled persons is NT$80; evening admission (available until Feb. 9 after 6pm) is NT$50


“Peter Rabbit sells the best. We also have Beatrix Potter book sets over there that come with toys and other extras. That adds value,” she continues.

“It’s a fact that the market is shrinking. Part of it’s because people are quite selective now and sensitive to value. Those who are willing to purchase are a minority. Moms go to the library and borrow a book and that’s that,” she says.


Over the years, the editorial board has tended to choose titles with the goal of offering more than a book.

“We try to appeal to the mom, who’s commonly the decisive factor in a purchase. Moms don’t want just a book. They prefer a book that teaches anger management, or a book that educates a child on maintaining good social relationships,” Huang says.

Last year, Children’s Publications’ bestselling item was a trio of French hardbacks: Herve Tullet’s The Game of Light, The Game of Let’s Go and The Game of Mix and Match. The three books offer a somewhat thin storyline, made up for by extreme interactivity — the pages are installed with touchable objects and games. They’re tough, made to stand up to eager children’s hands.

“On this page, you can train your kid’s hand-eye coordination. And this one,” Huang says, flipping to a page populated with cutout fish, “lets you shine a flashlight through it to make little fish shadows on the wall. It is pretty fun.”

Pan Asia International (泛亞國際文化), a local publishing house for picture books and monthly magazines, has taken another approach to adding value. It has launched a free e-magazine service for subscribers to its flagship monthly Earth Citizen (地球公民).

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