Heavy foot traffic along the aisles of the International Hall on the second day of the Beijing International Book Fair bodes well for the exhibitors. But there is an even better sign of a booming book market: the packed booths of established rights agencies where deals are often signed and sealed on the spot.
For chief representative Jackie Huang of Andrew Nurnberg Associates International, the strongest interest is in all genres of children’s books for aged 12 and below. “Novelty books, boardbooks, fiction, you name it. The market is also hungry for famous illustrators and stories that teach moral values. Across the board, parents are becoming more actively involved in their kids’ education and are very much aware of the importance of preschool education. Editors and teachers, on the other hand, are coming together to educate parents on how to best teach and support their kids. Their shared goal is to promote both literacy and knowledge,” explains Huang.
For the grown-ups, Huang observes that nonfiction remains strong with high interest in serious social science titles. “Management titles have cooled down somewhat since there are a lot of domestic authors for those subjects while parenting and pop-science titles continue to be popular. For fiction, big authors and prize-winners rule. It is interesting to note that editors for commercial fiction are becoming more interested in getting the e-book version first so that they can test the market and gauge potential print sales.” On the average, Huang and her team sells around 1,000 titles annually, with Dan Brown’s Inferno and Alice Munro’s Runaway leading its bestseller list in recent months.
The biggest changes in China’s book world, adds Huang, revolve around e-book publishing. “Everybody has become active in selling e-books through online retailers while editors are diligently seeking e-books and digital rights. This makes for complex rights negotiation and paperwork where we strive to keep the download price high enough to benefit the publisher and author while at the same time making sure it is affordable and attractive to the readers.” For Huang, it is a balancing act in which “a rights agent is just like a matchmaker: we do the research on what works, put the parties together, work out the deal, and hope for a long-lasting relationship.”
Relationship is definitely behind Kuperard Publishing’s decision to exhibit at BIBF for the first time this year. “Being here is about making direct contact and receiving feedback from editors and publishers, and developing relationships for future growth. The challenge in operating in overseas markets has always been the cultural and language barriers, which we seek to overcome in order to understand and be understood by the other party,” says publisher and managing director Joshua Kuperard. Interestingly, his two biggest series, Culture Smart and Simple Guide—distributed globally by Penguin Random House—are about values, attitudes and customs of people in different countries. “With China opening up so fast, its people need information about the rest of the world, and this is where these two series really stand out,” he adds, pointing out his Chinese partner (FLTRP Higher English Education Publishing) saw the need for such titles, and has reformatted selected Culture Smart volumes for English language learning courses.
For Haynes Publishing, its fifth outing at BIBF is about getting its brand out in front of customers and fostering two-way confidence with domestic publishers. “We are becoming more familiar with the market, and hopefully we know what is relevant and what won’t sell. Our Cider: Enthusiasts’ Manual, for instance, probably would not work here as cider in this part of the world refers mostly to cider vinegar,” says overseas sales & rights director Graham Cook, who sold about 25 titles excluding Imperial Death Star Manual to Beijing-based Goukr on the first day of the fair. “I am very happy to see the level of interest in our titles such as Women’s Car DIY, Triathlon Manual and Weight Loss for Men. Obviously, the more affluent Chinese society is turning to health and leisure pursuits. The next step for us is to look into exporting originals to China, and we have already started our conversations with various retailers on that.”
Over at Phaidon, a strong frontlist featuring new cookery and art history titles as well as new editions of popular photography books is the main attraction. “Our rich heritage and brand name recognition in art, design and photography lists play a strong role in driving our business in China, which is our biggest export market,” says export sales & business development manager David Brand, listing Massimo Bottura’s Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef and Art in Time as some of the hot titles at the fair. The 7-volume tome elBulli 2005–2011, retailing at 425 British pounds, sells the most, both in its original English edition and Chinese translation, while The Story of Art has always been a perennial bestseller, adds Brand. “Contemporary art is big in China, and it certainly helps with our export business to have more consumers reading in English.”