«There are over two hundred independent-bookstores in Taiwan. To stand out, bookstores craft a thematic identity, serving a certain subject matter in a multitude of genres»
Founded by Tsai Jui-Shan and Tieh-Chih Chang, Bleu&Book has become one of the numerous bookstores across Taiwan. It plays a role in the cultivation of bookselling and book reading across the country. Having founded the prime bookstore in 2016, they has now operated seven Bleu&Book outlets. One, a pop-up store, has since been shuttered down. Shan and Chang developed Bleu&Book as a riposte to their shared ardor for books and their involvement in media. Shan and Chang’s backgrounds narrated Bleu&Book to standing apart from its peers in the bookselling industry.
«Prior to my starting of Bleu&Book, I worked for a TV and media company based in Taipei. It was through my time here that I became acquainted with my now business partner, Chang, and also how I came to build a rapport with the individuals who have assisted in the establishment of the bookstores over the years», shares Shan. A graduate with a degree in Chinese literature and media studies from the Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei, Chang took on a role as a writer as well as TV host at CTV, the Taiwanese Television Network.
Her time as a host and writer in this role led her then into production roles within the network, which spanned across a decade. In her time as a producer for the television network, Shan also became familiar with the bookselling trade. A result of working for a television show that revolved around booksellers and bookstores. «Having to do research to produce content for the network is where the idea of forming a bookstore came from for me», shares Shan.
The publishing industry in Taiwan
Shan went on to spend an additional two years in the television network. Here she was then recruited to manage a bookstore in the environs. Shan explains that prior to taking on the role as the manager of the bookstore, she traversed across Taiwan. The aim was to understand and familiarize the ins-and-outs of owning and managing a bookstore. Chang is a graduate with a degree in Political Sciences from National Taiwan University and Ph.D. Candidates in Political Sciences from Columbia University. Having been the Editor-in-Chief to a number of magazines like Verse and City Magazine, Chang has since published his works in books and taken on a role as the founding editor for Taiwan and Hong Kong’s Bloomberg Businessweek.
Shan remarks that due to Taiwan’s limited size as compared to its neighboring countries, business models have to stick out to ensure longevity. «There are over two hundred independent-bookstores in Taiwan. To stand out, bookstores craft a thematic identity, serving a certain subject matter in a multitude of genres». Shan also shares that a newly opened bookstore in the North of Taiwan has a focus on the sea. The reason behind this is that it is close-by to the seaside. Borrowing these aspects from bookstores in this vein, Shan and Chang have since established a brand as booksellers that are synonymous within Taiwan. Shan explains her collaboration with Chang was a necessity. He, in fact, assisted in honing Bleu&Book to what it is today through the reading materials sold there.
Lampoon review: Books selection at Bleu&Book
She states that his educational background and his involvement with social activism through his work urged her to collaborate with him. «I read numerous books each year. But that does not make me the judge and jury to decide what types of books to carry in the store. When it comes to disseminating information to the public through books, participation with peers is integral». Shan’s goal as a self-funded bookseller and the co-owner of Bleu&Book is to evince and curate literature that plays a part in the education and molding of the readers in the area.
Having opened their prime outlet in the Huashan district of Taiwan, Shan and Chang went on to open the second Bleu&Book outlet in 2018 in the Pingtung. Situated in the residence of General Sun-Li Jen, Bleu&Book is located on the ground floor of the building alongside a permanent exhibition in honor of the General that resides above. Shan and Chang then went on to found two additional Bleu&Book establishments in 2019. One of them is a pop-up store that lasted over one-hundred-and-eighteen days in May of 2019. «A developer of the building initiated the pop-up store. The space that we were in was famous for its architecture and garnered numerous awards».
Future development and origin of the name Bleu&Book
The fifth bookstore opened in the West of Taipei. It will be closed in the coming months due to the repercussions of the pandemic. While, the sixth store is located by the city’s second central park. Within this space resides a restaurant, a café and a dedicated space for book related events to take place. «The location of the park is subsidized by the owner of the building. He did this to give back to the city».
In the coming months, Shan and Chang will be opening their seventh bookstore in an unoccupied school building in Northern Taiwan. Being located by the sea, the bookstore that occupies three floors of a section of the school building will also host books that center around the topic of water. The first five bookstores are limited in space, spanning across sixty square meters. Inside, they host thousands of books and individual cafés. Bleu&Book works with roasters in the locale to source and roast their coffee beans.
Shan herself created the name of the bookstore, Bleu&Book. A marker to stand apart from the abundant independent-bookstores in Taiwan. She explains that the word ‘Bleu’ is a translation of the word ‘blue’ in French. «I utilized the word from the folklore of a prince and a bluebird that guides him to seek happiness from within himself». Shan opposes the folklore’s message, stating that the key to happiness is in the journey seeking it. This then ties to the journey of seeking out knowledge and books that can be carried out across the Bleu&Book bookstores, explains Shan.
For the café section of the store, Shan states that «the beans that we procure for Bleu&Book come from a café in Taipei called Fika Fika». Alongside selling coffee, customers are able to enjoy their time in the café with fresh sandwiches made in the store.
Design at Bleu&Book
Each location of Bleu&Book is in a building that has a form of significance in the locale. Collaborating with the owners of the buildings, Shan and Chang have managed to find a middle ground. This allows them to rent out the spaces of the buildings at affordable prices. Having established bookstores in tourist attractions and architectural sites across Taiwan, Bleu&Book garnered a following by those in the locale around them. This then led to building owners, mayors of towns, and architects employing Shan and Chang to curate bookstores that fit to the locale in districts across Taiwan.
The designs of the stores vary, explains Shan. «The layout of the stores differs across locations. But furniture items and the concept of the café remains the same across bookstores. This was implemented into the pop-up store as well». Employing contractors that have worked with her family members, Shan designs shelving and display units. The sub-contractors then build them by hand.
Further, hosting quantities of books in the Taiwanese language, Bleu&Book works to incorporate a curated section of English language books to cater to tourists that wander into the Bleu&Book locations. Working with publishers and distributors within Taiwan and on an international scale, Shan accepts works from up-and-coming writers and creatives in the area. A necessary integration to disseminating ideas to readers that frequent the bookstores.
Events at Bleu&Book
Known for hosting book reading events, Shan explains that Bleu&Book events have become a congregation for readers and writers alike. One event, as she explains, took place during the span of four days, featuring one-hundred-and-eighteen authors hosting one-hundred-and-twenty-one events across cities in Taiwan. «We specialize in events involving books and readings by authors. While we are a bookstore, we pride ourselves with the scale and significance of the events that we host across Taiwan». Shan adds that book events are open to the public. Here visitors do not pay entrance fees, but rather pay for books prior to entering the events. «We have curated events for cities as well. An effort spurred by the mayor of Jingtong».
Shan shares that the book reading festival that took place in Pingtung was in a train. Authors guided participants. They, in fact, conducted book readings on a moving train, which led individuals to the seaside area in Eastern Taiwan. Working to host events in the near future, Shan and Chang are now operating the five Bleu&Book bookstores across Taiwan. They work with stringent guidelines that help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
100, Taiwan, Taipei City, Zhongzheng District, Section 1, Bade Rd, 1號2樓
Bleu&Book is a group of bookstores that are based across Taiwan. Alongside hosting and selling books, Bleu&Book also carries out book reading festivals and events each year.