A packed professional program of 28 seminars and events is one of the highlights at the second China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF). More than 25 speakers—overseas and local—are also expected to share their perspectives on the Chinese market and its appetite for imported content, and offer insights on new ideas and models for children’s digital publishing. During this three-day event, running from November 20 to 22 at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition Centre, the focus will be on four hot topics: branding in children’s book publishing, international guided reading levels, digital publishing for children, and the demand for edutainment content.
Among the 250 publishers from 23 countries that are exhibiting at CCBF this year is New York-based Dancing Penguins, a publisher and book packager specialized in children’s content. For sales director Desmond Sansevere, a line-up of 20 meetings plus numerous walk-ins—more than a dozen on the first day alone—is sure to make his first book event in China a memorable one. The hottest titles among the 100-odd showcased in the booth are those by Mercer Mayer and Richard Scarry, two authors represented by Dancing Penguins in China and other overseas markets.
Sansevere started selling to China in 2008 but the business did not pick up until well into 2009. “We first sold 60 titles from Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter series followed by about 60 of his Little Monster series. Then at the Bologna Book Fair, we saw tremendous interest from Chinese publishers, and that brings us to Shanghai. I find that publishers here like to buy titles by the same author, and they love series—which works really well for our two big authors.” For Sansevere, now is the right time to figure out how to release apps in China and build on his current business.
Over at UK publisher Igloo Books, now a part of Bonnier, a 40% growth in export business over a period of 15 months has prompted export manager (key account) Ajay Dhawan to dip his toes into the Chinese market. “We have zero customers here and this first outing is mostly to understand the Chinese book market and its rights situation, and making our presence known.” Dhawan, who has been doing brisk business in Malaysia and Singapore, has “some ideas as to what would work here but nothing beats being on the ground. So far, our titles are receiving much better reception than expected, with many liking the fresh and bright illustrations and covers, and the variety of our publishing program. Our two series, Leap Ahead and Tiny Tots, and other education-based picture books, sticker titles and activity books, are hot.”
Interestingly (and surprisingly) enough, some Igloo titles, brought in by distributors, are being sold on the other side of the exhibition hall. For Dhawan, “this means that Chinese readers already know us and familiar with our products. But we still like to be here personally to show our full catalogue and make direct contact with publishers, distributors and readers.”
Another Shanghai first-timer is international sales manager Edit Nemethi of Hungarian publishing house Graph-Art. “We were at the Beijing Book Fair two years ago—our first event in Asia—and sold 30 titles. This time, we decided to try out the more specialized CCBF and see what comes through. Ideally, I would like to meet not just Chinese children’s publishers but also those from the region.” Nemethi, too, is amazed by the enthusiasm shown by kids and parents alike for her titles. “There is no specific trend that I can determine. They especially like our illustrated titles with 3D pages such as Warriors, which has been sold to 10 countries including China, and Knights. We also have a 3D series of 13 titles with topics ranging from human body to dinosaurs.”
At this fair, Nemethi is promoting a four-volume series, The Cycle of Life, which comes with an app. “This was launched in Hungary about four months ago and we already sold 15,000 copies—and that is an amazing number in a country that considers a 3,000-copy title a bestseller.” As for her experience with Chinese publishing partners, it has been positive since Day One. “They communicate well, keep their promises to send us copies for approval, and pay on time.”
For chief editor Bai Bing of Jieli Publishing House, a powerhouse in the Chinese children’s book market, the receptiveness and openness experienced by Dancing Penguins, Igloo Books, and Graph-Art are the results of massive shifts in the industry. “Aside from the fact that China has bestsellers with millions of copies in print and super-long bestsellers, our book industry now has more children’s publishers than ever with around 30 houses doing only children’s titles. While publishers are becoming more focused on specific categories of children’s content—based on age or genre—the readers themselves, guided by parents and educators, have become more selective, discerning and adventurous.”
For Bai, this means that Jieli’s publishing program has to continuously reflect changing consumer preferences, innovate with high-quality and interesting material, and improve its distribution, sales and marketing functions. “Our goal is to give the best titles, original and translated, to our children, and to get children worldwide to read the best from Jieli.” Among Jieli’s top titles are Goosebumps (with distributed copies exceeding 8.72 million copies), My First Discovery (6 million copies), Twilight (3.9 million copies), and Bear Grylls’ Mission Survival (800,000 copies since its June 2014 launch). About 30% of Jieli’s sales come from new titles with the rest from reissue of bestsellers.