Many of us have already begun planning for the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition. While these preparations are underway, it seems an appropriate time to review the 2021 publishing industry’s figures and share the latest insights and highlights.
The total sales revenue from the publishing industry in 2021 was USD718 million (+5% YoY), compared with USD680 million in 2020. The revenue increase is widely attributed to the effect of the VAT-exemption policy that came into force in 2021, and it is therefore not viewed as real growth. However, one definite increase has been the surge of new ISBN applications, which rose by nearly 60% YoY, with over 54,000 numbers being issued in 2021. One factor behind this rise could be the significant growth in the eBook segment. Delayed consumer interest—when compared with other international markets—combined with 2021’s elevated Covid restrictions to produce marked changes in consumer habits.
Readmoo, one of the major eBook platforms, saw revenue growth of +160% in 2021. It is worth noting that although Readmoo is based in Taiwan, approximately 40% of their readership is located overseas, in places such as the USA and Hong Kong. The growth in Hong Kong is perhaps to be expected, as in the present political climate it might be seen as easier (and safer) to purchase certain titles as eBooks, rather than visiting physical bookstores.
Another growth area was in audiobooks and podcasts. MirrorFiction, who launched their audio platform in 2021, has seen great success; they distribute a wide range of audiobooks, using a subscription model similar to Audible, and offer a curated selection of podcasts, produced in collaboration with major authors, critics, and academics.
In terms of marketing and publicity, social media outlets such as Facebook and Youtube continue to be important platforms for the promotion of books. TikTok is widely used in Taiwan, but we have yet to see domestic BookToker sensations.
During October’s Taiwan Story Salon at Frankfurt Book Fair, Porter Anderson from Publishing Perspectives engaged in a stimulating discussion with Kim Pai from Paisha Agency; they spoke about the trends in fiction and non-fiction, in particular from a feminist perspective. Kim shared that many of our bestselling authors of recent years have been women and that (relative to other markets) there hasn’t been such a pressing need to address gender representation in our industry. Female authors in their 30s and 40s write on various topics, including LGBT issues, #MeToo, and identity topics such as living as a career-woman or being a mother or a daughter. It is difficult to pinpoint reasons for the wide acceptance of female writers or matriarchal figures in our society, but ever since the 1950s, Eileen Chang (張愛玲), San Mao (三毛), Chiung Yao (瓊瑤), and numerous other female authors have sold millions of books across different genres.
Veteran publishers and editors in Taiwan often refer to the 1970s & 80s as the ‘golden age’ of our publishing industry. It was during this time that the influential Small Fives (五小) were established. These were independently founded highbrow literary publishers that acted as a collective with regards to sales and distribution. Their authors included essayist and translator Lin Wen-yueh (林文月), modernist literary author Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai (白先勇), feminist author Li Ang (李昂), celebrated poet, essayist, and publisher Yang Mu (楊牧), and numerous other authors now present in the Taiwanese literary canon. Two of the Small Five founders, who were also acclaimed authors in their own right, were women: Lin Haiyin (林海音) founded Belle-Lettres Publishing House (純文學出版社), and Yao Yni Ying (姚宜瑛) founded Vast Plain Publishing House (大地出版社).