Amid a new teaching landscape shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-book and technology providers are optimistic about the potential of Taiwan’s independent education market.
The boom in video conferencing and remote education has brought domestic hardware manufacturers along for the ride, while software makers such as CyberLink have developed new features in response to surging demand for new solutions.
Students and teachers in most countries in East and Southeast Asia have returned to physical classrooms, but distance education remains crucial in many other markets, said Chung Ying-ting (鐘映庭), an industry analyst at the Market Intelligence and Consulting Institute.
Photo: Chou Hsiang-yun, Taipei Times
Hybrid classrooms, in which some students are physically present and others are attending virtually, have become the “new normal,” and the trend would continue to develop as the school year progresses, she said.
To keep distance education running smoothly, nations are enacting policies and exploring resources, particularly hardware, Chung said.
Some nations have hastened plans already in place, she said, citing Japan, which expedited its goal of ensuring computer access for every student from 2024 to this year.
In Taiwan, Google searches for “online learning” reached a peak in March to May, when people were most concerned with the prospect of a more severe COVID-19 outbreak, contributing to a growth in traffic and revenue for online learning platform providers, Chung said.
Many people during this time began paying more attention to distance learning and explored new learning methods, potentially forming a basis for hybrid education models, she added.
The National Development Council in September adjusted the budget for the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, raising the proportion allocated to digital infrastructure from 5 to 16 percent, Chung said.
The third phase of the program is to set aside NT$1.5 billion (US$52.1 million) for digital education, while NT$1.1 billion is to go toward making Taiwan a bilingual nation by 2030, she said, adding that these plans might also accelerate the development of “smart” education.
The pandemic has also presented new opportunities within the “stay-at-home” economy, particularly for digital e-book readers.
Julian Chou (周立涵), country manager for Taiwan and Hong Kong of Rakuten Kobo, a Japanese e-book company, said that the the firm’s number of active users in Taiwan has doubled since the pandemic began, while sales of its e-books and e-readers have increased.
E-books are not replacing or affecting physical book sales, but increase production value for many booksellers, Chou said.
The Kobo online store offers more than 6 million titles, 110,000 of them Chinese, Chou said, adding that the firm began selling in Hong Kong last year.
Due to the pandemic, partnerships with Chinese-language publishers from other countries have been put on hold, he said.
Since Taiwan is a cultural powerhouse in the region, Rakuten Kobo is to make the nation its headquarters for promoting titles across the Chinese-speaking world, he added.
There is a high correlation between time spent reading and sales growth, said Ho Wan-fang (何宛芳), cofounder and marketing director of Readmoo, a local e-book company.
In the entirety of last year, users of Readmoo’s mooInk spent a combined 54 million minutes reading, a figure already shadowed by the 64 million minutes spent reading in the first three quarters of this year, she said.
Extrapolating from revenue growth estimates, readers are this year expected to spend more than 85 million minutes using their e-readers, Ho said, adding that the growth trend has been consistent over the past few years.
Overseas users have also grown rapidly, rising from 10 to 12 percent of all daily users before the pandemic began to a stable 30 percent now, she said.
Most of the company’s clients are in Taiwan and Hong Kong, followed by the US, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore, she added.
Taiwan Digital Publishing Forum secretary-general Lin Pai-tsun (林柏村) said that his group saw a slightly different trend emerge at the beginning of the pandemic.
In the months up to September, domestic e-book platforms have seen an average annual growth rate of 30 to 40 percent, only a small increase from past years, Lin said.
However, firms that have performed well have seen up to 50 percent growth, while overseas markets have grown about 30 percent, doubling from previous years, he added.
Public libraries have this year also spent about 30 percent more on e-books amid heightened demand, especially in the six major municipalities, Lin added.
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