Think of Taiwan and, if you’re in the know about local publishing, picture books such as those by Chih-yuan Chen (Mimi Says No, Guji Guji) or Jimmy Liao (The Sound of Colors, When The Moon Forgot) may come to mind. Children’s book publishers Grimm Press and Hsin Yi Publications have done much to popularize these homegrown talents and titles. But Taiwan is also a market open to exploring new authors, imported titles, and innovative themes.
At the Taipei International Book Fair, held February 5 to 10, the Taiwanese children’s book market was pronounced stable by Random House Australia rights manager Nerrilee Weir, who was attending for the eighth time. “For me, this fair has always been more about children’s titles than adult books. But the saturated picture book market makes it hard for new titles to gain attention.” Still, Weir has had considerable success in introducing pictorial series such as Jayne Lyons’s 100% Wolf and Colin Thompson’s The Last Alchemist to young Taiwanese readers.
Giulia Scandone, rights manager at Paris-based Editions Auzou, shared Weir’s sentiment, adding, “Taiwanese publishers are getting much more selective, and new picture books would have to be very special in order to have a chance to be picked up. Popular science and comic-based titles are more in demand nowadays.” Scandone, in her third visit to the fair, was busy promoting Mes monuments du monde en papertoys (My Monuments of the World in Papertoys) and La science à portée de main (Science at Your Fingertips). “We have several strong titles such as Le Loup [The Wolf] and Bisous Bisous [Kisses Kisses] in this region, and nearly 75% of our children’s titles have been sold.”
For DK sales manager Linda Pevere, “That openness to explore new themes and authors also means unpredictability. And now, with the government setting aside funds to strengthen mathematics skills among students, there has been an increase in demand for math-related titles. Those on social sciences are also getting popular, as are those inspiring entrepreneurial skills.” The Ultimate Factivity Collection series and reference titles with novelties (such as pop-ups and glow-in-the-dark features) are among Pevere’s bestsellers in Taiwan. “On the other hand, the BookStart campaign has given us a couple of steady sellers with print runs up to 25,000 copies such as Playtime Peekaboo and Touch & Feel: Home. So government intervention is definitely good for the segment.”
English-language learning is another hot topic with Taiwanese parents, who tend to focus on academic achievement and English-language proficiency. The parent company of Vancouver-based Caramel Tree, Jeongsang Language School, has 100-plus English-language schools in South Korea, which provide a lot of relevant content for publication. “JLS has around 25 years of experience in teaching English and we have successfully transferred this into more than 150 titles,” said marketing manager Angie Roh. “The best part is that we sell these titles – written by Canadian and American authors – to both non-native and native speakers.” In fact, Caramel Tree recently partnered with IPG to distribute its titles in North America and other parts of the world outside of Asia. In Taiwan, Roh is looking for B2B distributors instead of selling rights.
Taiwan (and much of Asia) is a dynamic and new market for Scholastic, said London-based managing director Gordon Knowles, pointing out that “young people here are committed to learning English. So we are focused on bringing materials where readers can easily identify with the titles and already have some knowledge about the storyline or characters, such as Ice Age, Shrek, Madagascar, The Devil Wears Prada, Glee, and Steve Jobs. It is about comprehensible input and age-appropriate materials with simple language, but definitely not dumbed down.” For Selina Lee, director of Asia trade at Scholastic, it is also about “incorporating audio, assessment, and supplementary materials to add value to our titles, and to make them interesting to readers.” While frontlist titles sell well in Taiwan, she said, “series such as Geronimo Stilton, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, continue to move off the shelf.”
Over in the Thailand pavilion, Risuan Aramcharoen of Plan for Kids Company was seeing her top series, Dinosaur Gang, continue to gain recognition in the region. On February 6 she signed a licensing contract with Shanghai-based animation/e-books company Moker to produce a children’s program based on the series for Chinese Central Television (CCTV). “We add nearly 100 new titles to our catalogue annually, of which around 70% are originals, with the rest from Europe,” Aramcharoen said. “Our list is much more focused on storybooks, with 60% of our titles targeted at those aged four to six. We have sold a lot of our titles to neighboring countries as well as some to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and France. We have just scratched the surface as far as licensing is concerned.”
In most conversations with children’s publishers at the fair, the YA segment remains on the periphery, since it is not considered a mainstream genre in Taiwan. Still, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games manage to edge out similar titles in the category despite not having had the runaway successes they had in North America. In fact, in much of Asia, middle-grade titles on school life such as Andrew Clements’s novels and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series have fared much better. Weir, whose company has been successful with the Ranger’s Apprentice fantasy series by John Flanagan, nevertheless saw at Taipei “a shift away from fantasy and dystopia back to contemporary YA titles.”