A survey issued by the Government Information Office’s (GIO) Department of Publications recently showed that the nation’s book publishing industry is in decline.
The number of publishing houses, the volume of new books published and revenue decreased.
The number of publishing houses decreased from 1,775 in 2007 to 1,738 in 2008, while revenue growth for the firms dropped for four consecutive years, showing a year-on-year decline since 2005, from 3.95 percent to 1.38 percent, 0.68 percent and minus 2.08 percent.
Years 2007 and 2008 also saw a sharp decrease in the volume of new books published.
The GIO said that since the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system was adopted in the country in 1989, the number of books with ISBN identifiers had grown steadily, rising from about 20,000 in 1990, to 33,000 in 1996, 40,000 in 1999 and 46,700 in 2006.
The survey showed that 2007 marked the first decline — by 263 titles — in the number of ISBN applications, while 2008 saw a drop of 677 titles, bringing the number of ISBN applications down to 41,341, a considerable retreat compared with previous years.
In line with the downward trend was a revenue contraction of 1 percent in 2008 to NT$32.1 billion (US$1 billion), the report said.
Ko Hwa-wei (柯華葳), a professor of educational psychology at National Central University, said the survey left the government to wonder whether a decline in reading was behind the phenomenon.
A shrinking reader market is not the problem, Ko said, as there are signs that people still enjoy buying books.
Lifelong reading habits and a “reading atmosphere” are still not prevalent in Taiwan, however, Ko said.
In new book sales, the survey showed that children’s books ranked No. 3 in 2008, behind comic books and fiction, meaning that parents liked to buy books for children, Ko said.
“It’s a pity, however, that when children grow up, they read more textbooks and examination books than extracurricular reading material,” Ko said.
She said the government should keep longitudinal records of public spending on books and other arts as well as time spent on them as they are indicators of the country’s cultural literacy.
The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) does not regularly conduct the survey, with the latest data in 2004 showing that the average length of time spent reading books, newspapers and magazines per day was 0.7 hours. That figure was 0.4 hours in 2000.
Its household expenditure data for 2007 showed that about 9 percent of a family’s expenditure on culture and leisure activities — or 6 percent of total consumption — was spent on books, magazines and stationery, a drop of 1.2 percent from 1997.
A survey by the Chinese-language monthly Global Views in 2007 showed that people above the age of 18 spent an average 2.7 hours reading books per week, less than 7.4 hours online and 16.9 hours watching TV.
Association of Taipei Publishers president Lee Hsi-tung (李錫東), however, said that people spending less time reading was not the most worrying factor. Rather, the growing difficulties facing local writers in getting published, and the rising costs associated with this, was what concerned him the most, he said.
While it is true that people buy less books than before as a result of the Internet — which makes it easier for people to access free content online — Lee said that the emergence of large bookstore chains and online bookstores would gradually crowd out small publishers.