For the first time, instead of having a country as its guest of honor, the 2014 Taipei International Book Fair (TIBE) has selected the 16-member APPA (Asia Pacific Publishers Association) as its special guest. Culture minister Lung Ying-tai at the pre-fair press conference said, “We learn and know more about the U.S. than about our Asia Pacific neighbors, and this is unnatural. Since the era of Asia is coming, it is only right to throw the focus on the region.” She further added that, “TIBE is a fair where we meet friends from far and near, and invite everyone to experience Taiwanese culture and getting to know, and love, Taiwan.”

The fair, which runs from February 5 to 10, has a 414-square-meter APPA pavilion that highlights publishers from Japan, Korea, Singapore and Thailand with a collective display on selected works from other member countries. This is the first time APPA has its own pavilion (much less being selected as a guest of honor at a book event), and its president Eric Yang (also owner of Seoul-based RHK) is thrilled to welcome two new business members to the association: Taipei Book Fair Foundation (the organizer of TIBE) and the Frankfurt Book Fair. “I look forward to bringing APPA to more book events, and work towards fostering closer collaboration between APPA members and publishing friends from all over the world.”

Yang chaired the annual APPA general meeting earlier in the week, and was one of the speakers at the well-attended APPA forum (on the digitization of the region’s publishing industry) that took place on the first day of the fair. Norio Yamamoto (v-p of APPA and CEO of Tokyo-based Chuokeizai-sha), Teri Tan (deputy secretary-general of APPA and PW correspondent) and John Currie (global business director of Hong Kong-based CTPS Digiprints) made up the panel of speakers.

Another first for TIBE 2014 is the Frankfurt Academy Training Program that was held on February 4 and 5. For Holger Volland, v-p for conferences/creative industries of the Frankfurt Book Fair, this event “is aimed at further collaboration with TIBE in particular, and with Asian publishers in general. There have been significant changes in the global book business with some of the focus—which has long been only on the U.S. and the U.K.—now shifting to Asia. And while Asia has always been a big market, it is no longer just about book selling and rights trading. Technological innovation, market diversity and different business models have come into play.” Through the program, Volland hopes that the speakers “are able to share their experiences, meet with as many regional publishers as possible, and learn from them.” The 1.5-day program moderated by Volland featured Joachim Kaufmann (CEO of Carlsen Publishers, Germany, and v-p of new markets at Bonnier Books, Sweden), Jan Orthey (owner of Lunebuch Bookshop, Germany), Kerstin Schuster (international rights manager at Droemer Knaur), Shi Tao (v-p and GM of global business at and Gong Yingxin (director of Beijing-based German Information Center).

Also new to TIBE this year are the independent bookstore and printing zones that are set up to promote neighborhood stores (and by default, reading in every corner of Taiwan) and the high-quality and professional printing services in the country.

For Doris Wang, chairwoman of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation (and editor-in-chief of PsyGarden), the fair’s theme of La Dolce Vita (or The Sweet Life) is very much about promoting reading and celebrating life. “It is about reading as learning, reading as healing and reading as power. Through reading, a person is empowered with knowledge to help one steer through life and make better decisions,” she said, adding that “by their careful selection of content, publishers are inadvertently recording current topics, perspectives and thoughts, and cumulatively, they provide a record of the evolution of thoughts and history of time. As publishers, we perhaps do not set out to be keeper of thoughts and history as we have a much more practical goal to profit from our ventures. But we are doing just that. We are preserving cultures, exchanging ideas and broadening perspectives. And book events such as TIBE serve as a conduit for us to express our culture, ideas and thoughts through books.”

The fair’s theme is clearly showcased through a special pavilion that offers four different sections: historic artifacts and rare books exhibit, “Adrift in Time” old postcard exhibition (from 1920s to 1940s), “Inheritance of Tradition” (reenactment of the art of Chinese living and Taiwanese customs), and more than 110 books focused on living “la dolce vita”.

This year, there are dedicated pavilions for countries/regions such as France, Germany, European Union, Lengua Espanola (for Spanish-language countries Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Spain), Australia, U.S., Central America and New Zealand. There is also a fellowship program focused on Spanish literature and forums dedicated to book design, book-meet-film, digital publications and children’s book, and a workshop for librarians.

For Culture minister Lung, the contrast between the first fair held 22 years ago and the 2014 TIBE could not have been any starker. “Then, the martial law was just lifted and the event drew only 11 participating countries. Today, we have 68 countries, and this would not have been possible without our international friends’ trust, support and encouragement in spite of our political and international isolation.”