Looking Ahead to Taipei International Book Exhibition: Interview With Chairman James Chao

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson2 Comments

‘The Power of Reading’ is the message to Taiwan’s consumer base at this year’s sprawling Taipei International Book Exhibition, while Frankfurter Buchmesse’s professional program there examines changes in business, markets, and sales.
Taipei International Book Exhibition

More than 500,000 people are expected to visit this year’s Taipei International Book Exhibition, February 6 to 11. Image: TIBE

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Taiwan: 3,000 Publishers, 30,000 Titles Per Year

The Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE) is an important event for Taiwan and a measuring stick for the country’s publishing industry over the coming year, according to chairman James Chao. The TIBE “predicts the performance in sales for the year and reflects the confidence of the publishers,” Chao told Publishing Perspectives in an interview.

Opening Tuesday (February 6), the TIBE is a six-day book fair which this year features Israel as its guest of honor, an international rights center, and a Frankfurt Publishers Training Program opening on Monday, the eve of the exhibition’s public launch.

Directed by the Frankfurter Buchmesse’s Katharina Ewald, this year’s Publishers Training Program (February 5 and 6) highlights publishing markets in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Thailand. Speakers include:

  • Richard Nash, US-based entrepreneur and consultant in publishing
  • Jackie Huang, Andrew Nurnberg Associates China director (read our interview here)
  • Jerome Su, chairman with Bookman Books and BK Norton, Taiwan
  • Amy Ho, founcing CEO of CW Education Media & Publishing Company, Taiwan
  • Sarah Sohlemann, online marketing lead with Verlagsgruppe Random House, Germany
  • Gerald Cai of MXRi and SnapLearn, Singapore

As well as working as the chairman of TIBE, Chao is also the chairman and president of China Times, said to be the only publicly traded publishing company in Taiwan. We’ve opened our interview with Chao by asking whether the TIBE is more a trade show or a consumer-facing book fair.

Taipei International Book Exhibition

At last year’s Taipei International Book Exhibition. Image: TIBE

‘Promoting Reading, Stimulating Book Sales’

James Chao: The Taipei International Book Exhibition is a fair for both professionals and readers.

It’s not only a platform for professional exchange but also a cultural event that promotes reading and stimulates book sales. Held in the beginning of the year, it predicts the performance in sales for the year and reflects the confidence of the publishers.

Publishing Perspectives: Give us an idea of how attendance and exhibitor figures have grown over time.

Taipei International Book Exhibition James Chao

James Chao

JC: This year marks the 26th edition. In 2018, we have more than 600 exhibitors from 60 countries. Each year, the fair attracts more than 500,000 visitors, and the number of professionals is estimated to be more than 10,000. We’re seeing 10-percent growth in exhibitor participation.

Despite a downturn in the overall book market, we still devote lots of resources to special exhibitions, themed pavilions, design of our space, and growing numbers of events, which we think makes TIBE one of the biggest, most vibrant and interesting book fairs.

PP: Speaking of the overall book market, can you give us a quick overview?

JC: There are more than 3,000 publishing houses in Taiwan, and their output is more than 30,000 titles each year. The annual value is more than US$ 650 million.

The performance of imported books is generally stable with a slight recession. Translated titles still account for more than 40 percent of market share.

Apart from bestsellers from US, UK, and Japan, topics such as social issues, self-help, and lifestyles are popular among Taiwanese readers.

Taipei International Book Exhibition

At last year’s Taipei International Book Exhibition. Image: TIBE

‘We Publish a Lot and Read a Lot’

PP: Authors who visited your fair in the past in support of their books’ Taiwan publishers have told us that they found big crowds of receptive readers in Taipei. How would you characterize the place of reading there today?

Some publishing houses have expanded their investments in ebooks. Some have adjusted their business models. Some look for popular content on the Internet, and some have invited Internet celebrities to write books.James Chao

JC: We publish a lot and read a lot. Taiwanese people are easygoing, welcoming, and passionate. Taipei is a diversified, vibrant city. Although the sales of print books have declined in recent years since many Taiwanese now spend much time on social media such as Facebook and Line [a messaging software from South Korea’s Naver Corporation], the publishing sector still produces a large number of books.

Compared with past years, strong titles nowadays sell out faster. For example, a bestseller can sell 100,000 to 400,000 copies in just six months. Thanks to our freedom of speech, Taiwan has the most diversified publishing market and reading environment among the Chinese-speaking countries.

PP: What seem to be the biggest challenges facing Taiwan’s publishing industry today?

JC: As are many markets, Taiwan is facing a difficult situation in publishing. Some publishing houses have expanded their investments in ebooks. Some have adjusted their business models. For example, some look for popular content on the Internet, and some have invited Internet celebrities to write books. Some houses have added CDs, DVDs or apps as additional attraction to their readers. Marketing professionals now put lots of resources into Internet promotion.

PP: How has the “print vs. ebook” competition played out in Taiwan? Can you quantify how substantial digital reading is?

JC: In 2017, the number of ebook platforms increased by 20 percent in Taiwan. Sales of ebooks saw 25-percent growth. However, the sales of ebooks still remains a tiny portion of the total market share, less than 3 percent.

Nevertheless, many Taiwanese publishers are still active in buying ebook rights from other countries and digitalizing locally produced content. A 20-percent annual growth rate is expected in our ebook market this year.

Taipei International Book Exhibition

At last year’s Taipei International Book Exhibition. Image: TIBE

‘A Reading Carnival’

PP: Tell us a little about this year’s TIBE programming. What’s new in 2018, and what are you most proud of?

“We’ve invited more than 300 writers, illustrators, comic book authors, and other creative minds to hold live-streamed sessions throughout the six days of TIBE, welcoming readers into the world of arts.”James Chao

JC: Since 2017, we’ve put more emphasis on TIBE’s role as a reading carnival. We hold more activities, improving the design and atmosphere of the space, and we curate exhibitions on different themes. TIBE will showcase the cultural creative power of Taiwan and highlight our independent publishers.

At the same time, this year we continue to bring in amazing exhibits from overseas including the Look! exhibition from Germany; digital projects from France; and a show on the work of the famous Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka.

Our guest of honor, Israel, is presenting not only its best literary works but also many other aspects of its rich culture, including language, technology, religion, geographic scenery, and food.

Another highlight this year is our Creative Comic Collection (CCC), an interactive digital exhibition in which visitors can find classic CCC comics displayed in augmented reality and holographic projections.

We’ve invited more than 300 writers, illustrators, comic book authors, and other creative minds to hold live-streamed sessions throughout the six days of TIBE, welcoming readers into the world of arts. And we have seven activity zones and one livestream room, where visitors can sit down and interact with the artists.

Meanwhile, in terms of outreach, we’ve invited bookstores, libraries, shops, cafes, etc. in Taipei and in two other nearby cities. We’re supporting them in holding events related to reading and inviting their citizens to meet authors and enjoy books.

PP: Lastly, how do you hope that the Frankfurt Publishers Training Program might benefit its participants this year? Are there specifics you’d like to see stressed on Monday and Tuesday?

JC: Three points. First, the publishing sector is changing rapidly. Second, publishing houses and bookstores are facing great challenges in management and creating revenue. And third, in the digital era, readers’ preferences are also changing.

When you consider these points, professionals in the industry need to improve their work, and the Frankfurt program can satisfy this need by providing the latest trends, newest approaches and most successful experiences observed in different countries–as well as offering a platform for exchanging knowledge.

The Frankfurt program at TIBE has become an important annual event for publishing professionals from Taiwan, other parts of Asia, and the world. I like the fact that it even attracts some members of the general public who are interested in the publishing industry.


Here’s the Taipei International Book Exhibition’s 2018 promotional video, highlighting areas of life in which books can be integral.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

Comments

  1. Interesting presentation, Porter. Never heard about Tibe, but I’m glad there’s so much effort put into the book biz and the inclusion of all the writers, comic book authors, and illustrators. It’s crazy that digital publishing only plays such a tiny part, but hey, I’m an indie, so I come from a different corner.

    1. @ Mars – Part of the problem, Mars, is that the big western retailers we rely on as indies simply aren’t active in these countries. Neither Amazon nor Apple have a Taiwan store, nor indeed any ebook presence in Asia other than Japan and China.

      This means there is little incentive to publishers and authors to digitise.

      @ Porter – Very informative post. Thanks!

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