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Another topic of discussion in the ongoing pricing debates is the proposal of a fixed book price, which many independent booksellers see as a healthy long-term solution for dealing with aggressive online retail practices. As it currently stands, the government does offer various grants throughout the year to help ease the financial pressures on independent bookstores and other sectors of the publishing industry. Additionally, Taiwan introduced a Public Lending Right program in 2020, and books were granted VAT-exempt status in 2021 in a bid to help stabilize the industry.
Sales of eBooks represented 3.6% of the total book market in 2020. Their rise has been gradual, growing from 0.3% in 2012. Local digital platforms have also seen increases in revenue. Aside from direct-to-consumer sales, institutional digital archives and audiobooks are two important areas of development. Kobo (Japan) and Readmoo (Taiwan) are the dominant eBook devices. By engaging the readers in simple gamification — such as hosting reading marathons and rewarding users for writing reviews — Readmoo has been successful in obtaining and retaining readers’ attentions.
Despite the challenges posed to the international publishing scene by the pandemic, there have been many recent outstanding achievements by authors and illustrators from Taiwan. Lin Lian-En’s (林廉恩) Home and Animo Chen’s (阿尼默) Love Letter each received the 2021 Bologna Ragazzi award for fiction and poetry, respectively. Also at Bologna, Cho Pei-Hsin (卓霈欣) was the winner of the International Award for Illustration. This prize, awarded by Grupo SM, comes with a publishing contract and a solo show at next year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Page Tsou (鄒駿昇), who was awarded the same prize back in 2011, has since published two successful large format picture books with Templar and has established a strong career as a visual artist and curator. Illustrators Cindy Wume and Wooli Chen have been working on new picture books with various Canadian and British publishers such as Tundra Books, Macmillan, Otter-Barry Books, and Magic Cat Publishing. Julia Liu and Bei Lynn’s Leilong the Library Bus was published by New Zealand’s Gecko Press in the summer of 2021, and rights have also been sold to France, Korea, and Thailand. La Cifra Editorial, a publisher based in Mexico City, already has a small selection of picture books by Taiwanese authors, including Me has visto by Kuo Nai-Wen (郭乃文) and Zhou Jian-Xin (周見信), Al atardecer by Sun Hsin-Yu (孫心瑜), and Respiro feugo by Lai Ma (賴馬).
In adult fiction, Wu Ming-Yi’s (吳明益) novels continue to sell foreign rights editions, which in turn increases his appeal to local audiences. Wu’s 2011 novel, The Man with the Compound Eyes, was brought to the stage by the German director Lukas Hemleb in April 2021, and the German edition of the novel will be published at a soon-to-be-determined date. The Illusionist on the Skywalk has been adapted twice, first into a pair of graphic novels by illustrators Ruan Guang-Min (阮光民) & Sean Chuang (小莊), and more recently into an award-winning TV series produced in collaboration with Taiwan Public Television Service.
Photo: Ghost Town (鬼地方), Kevin Chen, (Mirror Fiction, 2019)
Ghost Town, Kevin Chen’s first novel in twelve years, has been successful both at home and abroad. It is told using multiple narrative voices that weave together family secrets, superstitions, the search for identity amid a clashing of cultures. After having secured numerous literary awards, the book has sold foreign editions in English, Italian, French, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese.
Photo: An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom (彼岸花が咲く島), Li Kotomi, (Bungeishunju, 2021)
Li Kotomi (李琴峰) is a translator and novelist who was born in Taiwan in 1989 and then moved to Japan to study in 2013. She was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in June 2021 (a remarkable achievement considering Li began self-learning Japanese at the age of 15). Her prize-winning novel, An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom, is set on a fictional matriarchal island positioned somewhere between Japan and Taiwan and poses questions about gender equality. She writes about sexual orientation and identity from a place of personal experience, which has led some critics to name her as a literary successor to the late writer Qiu Miaojin, whom Li sites as an important influence.
The steady accumulation of international prize winners, successful foreign rights sales, and the increasingly common media tie-ins are all important steps towards a stronger and more confident collective Taiwanese identity. Although the devaluation of the industry causes lingering concerns, other developments such as eBook and audio-format uptake show good signs of audience expansion. Many of us are curious to see what effects on the industry the recent changes in regulations will bring, and we hope that additional laws will be enacted to cultivate a more stable publishing environment.
Many of the books mentioned above are available with English sample translations at the government-funded English-language platform Books from Taiwan (https://booksfromtaiwan.tw). There, you will find information on translation grants alongside regular updates on all aspects of our publishing industry. Finally, Taipei International Book Fair is planning to return in June 2022. For more information, please visit https://www.tibe.org.tw/en/.