A hall dedicated to children’s content and licensing, and a full-day Children’s Publishing Forum during this year’s 25th Beijing International Book Fair are testament to the booming—and massive—Chinese children’s book market.
Running concurrently with the fair, from August 22 to 26, is the inaugural Beijing International Children’s Book Fair, which is focused on anything and everything to do with children’s content. Major publishing players from China are here, together with online retailers (such as Dangdang and JD) and multinational publishers including National Geographic, Pearson Education, and Scholastic. The fair is meant to provide a platform for publishers and potential partners to explore business opportunities that have grown from the integration of publishing, multimedia, licensing, and film/television.
As for the Children’s Publishing Forum, which was held on the eve of the fair, it was a part of a two-day program of industry visits, seminars, and a conference aimed at providing an introduction to the Chinese market. Speakers include Tyrrell Mahoney (of Chronicle Books), Dong Yuan (Dargaud Group), Erika Bradfield (Insight Editions), and Eric Huang (Ameet Publishing). The latter warned of the rise of nontraditional publishers such as Apple and Disney, which are competing with industry players especially in the West.
Overall, quality picture books continue to be in high demand in China while the focus on early childhood education is growing rapidly. At the same time, Chinese publishers are searching for relevant titles on social-emotional learning.
For Liz Nealon, president of Great Dog Literary, the goal is to bring out-of-print titles from renowned U.S. and U.K. authors back into circulation in print and digital for the international markets. The company represents big names such as Seymour Simon, Kathryn Lasky, Emily Arnold McCully, Diane Stanley, and Susan L. Roth. “Since this is my first BIBF,” she said, “I am on a fact-finding mission to answer questions such as: What is this market about? What are parents looking for in terms of content for their children?” The range of books she represents, she added, “is culturally neutral, and therefore, acceptable to parents and children.
Over at Atlantyca, CEO Claudia Mazzucco found that the most important trend in Chinese publishing is the growing importance of online distribution. “It forces a shift in the mindset in dealing not just with physical books going through the online channels but also digital assets. How to develop the online distribution and work on digitization of IP is the question.”
One of the best-known IPs that Mazzucco’s company represents is of course Geronimo Stilton, of which the Journey Through Time series has sold more than 10 million copies in China. Tencent Video—the leading Chinese online video entertainment platform owned by conglomerate Tencent—has now aired two seasons of the animated Stilton series. On the first day the animated series was shown, there were more than a million views. “This is an example of moving the print IP to multimedia and taking advantage of an emerging channel to reach the next generation of audiences using the same content.”
At the same time, Mazzucco was seeing the revival of audio books, especially for learning the English language. “The new generation wants to learn to speak with the proper accent, and this is the direct impact of the change in their education system where learning is done at an early age,” she said. “There is also a deep desire to know about the outside world and learn about different cultures.”
Chinese publishers, Mazzucco said, are getting more demanding in terms of content and becoming more sophisticated. “These changes in their approach in selecting titles are positive and most appropriate, and must be applauded. They are prepared when they sit down to talk, unlike 10 years ago.” The demand for popular science and picture book is growing, she added.
Meanwhile, general manager Cinzia Seccamani of Find Out Team Publishing Agency was busy representing Italian publisher La Coccinella at BIBF. “China is its biggest market, and its 25-title Look and See series has already sold more than one million copies,” she said. “La Coccinella not only sells the rights to Chinese publishers but it also prints the titles for them through their Hong Kong office, which is set up for this specific purpose. The goal is to control the volume that is printed to ensure there is total accountability and no piracy.”
Seccamani’s agency also represents Chinese publishers such as China Children’s Press Publication Group and Citic Press to sell their titles to overseas markets. “We are more than happy to represent Chinese publishers because we believe that there is space for Chinese originals outside of China, and this space is growing due to the interest in Chinese authors and illustrators. At the same time, I am happy to see that the retail price of children’s books in China has been rising in recent years, and that the market is now much more open to different formats and content.”