The positive mood evident on the first day of the Beijing Book Fair carried over into day two. After the initial shock of seeing (or hearing about) the collapsed Wolter Kluwers booth, everybody gets back into the business of selling books and establishing new partnerships.
For rights and digital sales manager Huw Alexander of SAGE, inking two deals yesterday was very unusual. “But there is definitely higher footfalls and a bigger buzz at this year’s fair. I think there is a real thirst for knowledge here and the Chinese are sprinting to close the knowledge gap.” Alexander signed about 75 co-publishing deals last year. "China is our biggest market translation-wise, and it is definitely the most exciting country for SAGE,” he said.
Exciting is also the word used by event director Steve Rosato of BookExpo America to describe China since there were twice as many Chinese exhibitors at BEA 2010 than in 2009. “As a first-time BIBF visitor, I’m nicely surprised by its robustness and dynamism. For sure, it is a well-planned event. I also enjoyed the publishing forum last Sunday, and went away with a new understanding of the Chinese book market. My dream now is to have China as the focus country at BEA Global Market Forum soon.”
Andrew Nurnberg of the eponymous rights agency, is having a goodt BIBF 2010. More than 40 children’s titles were sold yesterday and his team is enjoying great success in recommending non-English titles to Chinese publishers. Nurnberg also sold all Stephen King titles — where there was no market for such segment in the past. “Recent months have seen local publishers getting serious about bringing Western authors to China. Early this year, for instance, author Lawrence McDonald of A Colossal Failure of Common Sense was invited by his Chinese publisher to give talks and to appear on national television CCTV for dialogues.” Chief rep Jackie Huang adds, “The same thing happened to Alan Weisman of The World Without Us, a book considered very important to China. He was here exchanging ideas with scientists and intellectuals, and giving talks.”
But the industry’s digital obsession is troubling Nurnberg. “Because bookstores are doing pretty badly here, many publishers are convinced that digital is the way to go. While I think having e-books is great as it gives readers a choice, what is not so great is that some major Chinese publishers are said to be preparing to sell e-books at around 30% of the price of a print book, and even lower, at 10%, for mobile download. Since books are already priced pretty low in China, this trend is worrying to say the least.”
Joan Everard of London-based A&C Black, on the other hand, is happy to note that her children, business and academic titles are selling well. One title, QFinance: The Ultimate Resource, was recently sold to CITIC Publishing House for five figures – A&C’s biggest Chinese contract so far. “Last September, we sold 20 titles from our Chameleons series to Hubei Children’s Press. But the biggest surprise was the July sale of the full-color 400-page The Sailing Bible to Qingdao Publishing Group. Academic titles on fashion for colleges and universities are also doing very well. In short, there is a lot of business to be done in China, and I would encourage everybody to come and visit.”
And while cracking the Chinese market is tough for Westerners who do not speak the local language, it is not exactly a walk in the park for Asia-based Chinese-speaking publishers either. Often, they lack the brand recognition enjoyed by many North American or European houses. So niche is the modus operandi for at least two Singapore-based companies. For edu-comic specialist AsiaPac Books, the target is not local Chinese but the expat community of Westerners and overseas Chinese who have lost part of their cultural heritage. “We produce titles on how to use chopsticks, or about Chinese tea, wine, festivals, music etc. -- topics that locals deem too basic but are welcomed by expats who find local publications too intimidating,” says managing director Lim Li Kok. Over at World Scientific (WP), “the growth, and pursuit, of Chinese STM content has led us to create a series of guidebooks on scientific writing and presentation to help non-native English speakers to write better,” says managing director Gunawan Hadi, whose team also published multidisciplinary STM series such as bestseller Handbook of Porphyrin Science that are targeted at Chinese undergraduates and professionals who are increasingly expected to know more than one particular discipline.
Publisher/founder Natasha Perova of Moscow-based GLAS is “hoping to make Chinese readers – and readers elsewhere – take note of contemporary Russian literature.” In town to promote the first anthology of Debut Prize winners Squaring the Circle (co-published by People’s Literature Publishing House), Perova is accompanied by novelist Olga Slavnikova (also director of the Debut Prize) and six young authors. “Since Debut Prize winners are under 25 years of age, their writings provide a glimpse of present-day Russia, its thoughts and future direction. I think China’s younger generation would find this anthology written by their Russian counterparts interesting. As for the older generation of Chinese who speaks and reads Russian, I hope our exhibit will help to revive their interest in various types of Russian works.”