For president and CEO Yurika Yoshida of the Japan Foreign-Rights Centre, the focus is on selling Japanese originals. Last year, she signed 480 deals, and "sales to China were significantly higher than in previous years. We sold not just preschool picture books but also game books, edu-comics and fiction to publishers such as Jieli, 21st Century, ThinKingdom, Shanghai Juvenile & Children's Publishing House, and China CITIC Press."
JFC represents around 15 Japanese publishers and will exhibit some 150 titles in Bologna. Among the major titles is 12-volume Milky Sugiyama: Private Eye for eight-year-olds and up, a series that has sold more than 760,000 copies. "Another successful series for the same age group is Fair, then Partly Piggy by Shiro Yadama. The first of this nine-volume series appeared 30 years ago in Japan and was a big success, with total sales exceeding 3.5 million copies." Then there is 32-page Haru and the Little Rabbit picture book by Chiaki Okada, who was among those selected for the 2010 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. Overall, more than half of JFC's business comes from the children's/YA segment. "In 2010, we sold Komako Sakai's Mad at Mommy to Arthur A. Levine and 100 in Total, a 24-page game-based picture book by Masayuki Sebe, to Kids Can Press. Then there is Play All Day, a big playbook that Chronicle Books created by combining two Taro Gomi titles. This title has gone back for a third printing since its 2010 launch in the U.S.," adds Yoshida, pointing out that in Japan some perennial sellers have gone through more than 100 reprints.
And speaking of e-books, she notes, "The Japanese copyright law is fundamentally intended to protect authors' rights and property, and not to promote publishers' rights and activities. Current contracts are literally permissions granted by authors to publishers to allow them to produce the books in print. Now with e-books in the picture, publishers and authors would have to find a new standard agreement that can work for both sides, and one that would not jeopardize the print version and its sales."
For Kaisei-sha, 100 is a lucky number: two of its series based on 100 have struck gold with many overseas publishers. "Masayuki Sebe's activity book 100 in Total, for instance, teaches counting up to 100 through fun stories that are brightly illustrated in bold colors, and has been sold to 10 countries including Canada, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. His latest, 100 Animals on Parade, was bought by Paris-based Mango Editions immediately upon publication last year," says Yuko Nonaka, who is in charge of foreign rights. "I'm planning to promote Toshio Iwai's A House of 100 Stories and An Underground House of 100 Stories at the upcoming Bologna. More than 820,000 copies, including the large-format kindergarten editions, have been sold, and over in Taiwan they are ranked #1 and #3 on Books.com.tw."
Another big-name author on Nonaka's Bologna list is Taro Miura, who has been published by Editions Corraini (Italy), Media Vaca (Spain), and Chronicle Books (U.S.), and whose recent offering, The Tiny King, was launched in June. Next is Akiko Miyakoshi's The Tea Party in the Woods, which garnered lots of attention at Frankfurt 2010. "We reprinted it one month after its release, and sales have exceeded 10,000 copies." On the fiction side, Nonaka has sold the Milky Sugiyama: Private Eye series to China, France, and Taiwan. As for Kaisei-sha's most famous titles, YA series Moribito, picking up the Batchelder Award two years running for its first two volumes has been good for rights sales: it is now available in eight languages including English, French, and Spanish. In translations, last year Kaisei-sha published several American bestsellers including Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Alabama Moon, and Dear Genius. "For 2011, we are planning to publish Eric Carle's 1972 title, Walter the Baker. We find his titles fresh and the themes universal, and we will keep introducing the backlist to Japanese children."
Nonaka adds: "It is fair to say that the American and British bestseller lists always have brand new titles and movie tie-ins, while the Japanese list usually includes classics and perennial sellers that may have been published back in the 1970s. In fact, local distributor Tohan publishes a Million-Book catalogue that lists children's titles with sales upwards of one million copies each, and many parents and grandparents use this catalogue as a buying guide. Such titles will continue to sell well in the years to come." Japanese children, according to Nonaka, have not developed the habit of reading e-books or turning to mobile content yet. "It will take a while longer, but we are closely monitoring developments."
Over at Kodansha, Setsuna, a spinoff of Nahoko Uehashi's The Beast Player Erin was the biggest title last year. It has sold 92,000 copies, while the main series is now available in several languages including Chinese, French, German, Korean, Swedish, and Thai. The first volume in the series has already been turned into an iPhone/iPad app, and more e-books and mobile apps are in the works, says children's book publisher Eisuke Otake: "Our editorial team is currently converting the 200-odd titles of the Aoitori series—our most successful program for middle-grade readers—into e-books. At the same time, we are looking into the possibility of publishing certain picture books solely in e-book format." Obviously, to facilitate e-publishing, Otake wants digital rights to be included in every contract, but "different authors have different opinions on these emerging formats, and we have to follow their wishes so as not to jeopardize the relationship of mutual trust."
Speaking of licensing, Otake finds that another advance payment upon contract renewal is becoming standard practice: "Extension used to be a matter of signing a new agreement without any advance. To us, the current practice is an obstacle to long-term sales." He also sees more companies launching big children's collections, something similar to Aoitori (which goes back to 1980). "But given the overcrowded bookstore shelves, I don't think this is a good time to start such publishing programs."