On the first day of the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), running from August 31 to September 4, exhibitors and trade visitors alike grappled with a new venue, unfamiliar layout and commuting issues. Located near the Beijing Capital Airport, the new glass-and-steel China International Exhibition Center is quite a distance away from the city center. Concerns about accessibility and possibilities of reduced foot traffic were raised as soon as the new venue was announced toward the end of last year’s fair. While gripes about the longer-than-expected commute -- involving at least two changes of trains that take up a better part of an hour -- are loud and unanimous, there is little evidence of fewer visitors to the International Hall in E2 wing.
Throughout the day, crowds thronged the Guest Country Pavilion that honors the Netherlands with a 1,500-square-meter exhibition space. Visitors walked through an area that is constructed to resemble a miniature Dutch terrain, complete with waist-high dykes, recesses and flat areas (as befitting its slogan “Open Landscape Open Book”). Most surfaces are used to highlight works by Van Gogh, sinologist Robert van Gulik, illustrator/author Dick Bruna (featuring Miffy), and comic artists Joost Swarte and Peter Pontiac.
Twenty-three authors accompanied the Dutch Foundation for Literature on this trip. Among them are Kader Abdullah (The House of the Mosque), Geert Mak (In Europe), Princess Laurentien (Mr Finney and the World Turned Upside-down), Ramsey Nasr (Holland’s current poet laureate; Heavenly Life), Margriet de Moor and Adriaan Van Dis. “We have participated in this fair since 2005, and we are making good progress in promoting Dutch authors to Chinese readers,” says Bas Pauw of the Foundation, who finds that Chinese publishers are interested in titles that combine, say, hard science with literature. “One good example is biologist Tijs Goldschmidt’s Darwin’s Dreampond: Drama on Lake Victoria. The author’s ability to weave his personal experience into the topic of population biology makes it appealing and accessible to the general readers.” So far, more than 100 Dutch originals have been sold to Chinese publishers such as Yilin, Flower City Publishing and Shanghai 99. (More information on the Pavilion and Dutch literary scene can be found at www.helanwenxue.org)
Several companies are making big moves and bold ventures into the Chinese market this year. One of them is UK-based Publishing Technology plc, theprovider of software and services to the publishing industry. Its expansion plan includes the establishment of a Beijing subsidiary that will be headed by digital publishing expert Helen Sun. Publishing Technology China will directly target Chinese publishers through its ingentaconnect interface and local sales representation, and offer more than 15,500 electronic publications in Chinese. “With the Chinese publishing industry growing at an astonishing rate of 19% per year and well over 8,000 academic journals and a booming scientific research community second only to that of the US, China represents a big opportunity for us,” says CEO George Lossius, who also plans to increase the visibility of Chinese content and facilitate its sales to overseas researchers and librarians.
Over at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), partnership is the keyword in its plan for the Chinese market. “We are going to invest more in China than in any other countries outside of the US,” says executive v-p Terry Nealon, who has made it his mission to “help Chinese schools and the government to transform teaching by building learning programs, managing the classroom, and putting the emphasis on student outcome and teacher effectiveness.” Localization seems to be developing at a fast pace judging from the slew of new HMH offices springing up in China, Singapore, UAE, Korea, Canada and Puerto Rico. For Gunawan Hadi, general manager for Asia, the growing number of international schools in China presents a new market all by itself. “Middle-class parents are eager to have their kids follow the U.S. school curriculum right from the start in order to prepare for an eventual move to the U.S. for higher education, especially in an Ivy League university. The Chinese government is also encouraging local schools to start an international division even to the extent of hiring American tutors.With our Beijing office, we are on the ground to provide teachers with proper training while working on tailoring our products to fit their specific needs.”
Two aisles away, Encyclopaedia Britannica is going all out to change people’s perceptions of its products. “We are no longer the staid 32-volume encyclopedia company that sells door-to-door. We have changed as the world of education has changed,” says Malaysia-based consultant Keith Thong, who offers flyers on Britannica Online Academic Edition, SmartMath and Image Quest as proofs. His target market, naturally, is the educational sectors. Says executive director Roland Smith, “Even though this is only our second year at BIBF, we have significantly ramped up our presence in China -- as evidenced by this big booth. We have been doing more reprints of our traditional products in recent months, and now we are moving on to online products. If we can increase our subscriber base from 1,000 to 400,000 in a small market like Malaysia, we can definitely do the same -- and more -- in China.”