SEPTEMBER 12, 2011
Publishing in Taiwan 2011
much value on reading. Books now haveto compete with electronic gadgets andother things like music or computer les-sons for parents’ money.”Although Yuan-Liou is one of the fewpublishers with the financial resourcesand operational capabilities to meet thedigital publishing challenge head-on,the company finds the going tough,according to president and CEO Jung-wen Wang: “Even the most aggressivepublishers derive less than 5% of theirrevenues from e-books, a figure too insig-nificant to merit much consideration. Incontrast, online magazines and electronicdatabases have seen substantial growththrough steady development.”For Wang, who is also chairman of theTaipei Book Fair Foundation (an18-member committee in charge of theannual event), the government shouldplay a bigger role in supporting e-booksby promoting digital reading. “In theB2B2C educational market, one waycould be for copyrights to be sharedamong author, publisher, distributor,and digital service provider, and titlespurchased through a government-con-trolled model with standardized pric-ing,” Wang says. “Sadly, such a modelhas yet to materialize. Much of our uni-versities’ funding is now spent onimported e-publications, and elementaryand high schools have no budget fore-books.”Adding to the dilemma is that pub-lishers, while crucial to the content-mak-Kuo’s sentiments on digital publishing:“With cloud computing and applicationsmaking inroads into the book industry, Ibelieve the younger generation will beattracted to participate in the search fornew ways to publish, market, and sellbooks. A new breed of publishers willemerge to transform the industry andtake it to new heights.”For Chang, the fact that most Taiwanpublishers own and manage their owncompanies—aside from playing the roleof chief editor—is something to be proudof. “They know the market and the rulesof the game very well, and, as owners, aretotally dedicated to their business,”Chang says. “But these traditionalstrengths may hamper their abilityto meet the new challenges of a rap-idly changing world. We have torecognize that our publishingindustry is small compared to Chi-na’s. Maybe we should join handswith our counterparts across thestrait to capitalize on each other’sexpertise and face the new eratogether.” Chang now treats themuch bigger Chinese-speakingmarket—including China, HongKong, Singapore, Malaysia, andother overseas Chinese communi-ties—as a single market, workingto digitize content for differentdevices and channels to fit every territory.As a children’s book publisher, Changis mindful of the segment’s many chal-lenges. “Firstly, the lowbirth rate is a big issue,but it is not somethingthat publishers cansolve. Secondly, it ishard to nurture home-grown talents whentranslated authors andillustrators garner somuch attention. It isalso more difficult tofind a creative title thatcatches my attentionnowadays. Lastly, youngparents often do nothave a habit of readingand therefore do not put“Taiwan’s publishing industry is verymuch shaped by history,” says John Kuo,president of Book Republic. “The yearsunder Japanese rule [1895–1945] andthe subsequent government basicallyspelled the death of literature and pub-lishing freedom. Only in the early 1980sdid the first generation of publishinghouses emerge—namely Yuan-Liou andCommonwealth—to promote originalworks and kick-start translations. But formost publishers of that era—myself included—publishing is a passion. Wewere low on capital and expertise. Wepretty much made it up as we wentalong. In the current fast-changingInternet economy, however, publishinghas to be less of a passion and more of abusiness proposition.”“Very roughly, the publishing indus-try has probably grown 50% in the pastdecade,” Kuo continues, “the retail anddistribution channels, 1,000%. Thisimbalance may be corrected by havingbigger publishing houses or groups.Unfortunately, existing ones are not bigenough or have huge enough capital, toinfluence the retail and distribution sec-tor.” Digital publishing, he says, mayprovide the platform for an industrytransformation and reorganization.“Everybody starts from ground zerowhen it comes to creating e-books orrunning e-bookstores. Incidentally, thischange may attract the younger, Internetgeneration to the publishing industry.”Meanwhile, originalworks are growing fastbecause, he adds, “Thereis now pride in being anauthor. Before, making aliving off writing bookswas considered a dead-end career in any Chinesecommunity. Over thenext decade, I fullyexpect to see many morehomegrown authorsmaking it big here andoverseas.”Executive directorSing-ju Chang of HsinYi Foundation shares
Sing-ju Chang, executive director of Hsin Yi Foundation. Jung-wen Wang, chairman of the Taipei Book Fair Foun-dation, and chairman/CEO of Yuan-Liou Publishing Co.with one of his company’s bestselling series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.