A bigger venue and a much expanded professional program awaited exhibitors and visitors to this year’s China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF), which recently completed its second run from November 20–22.
A total of 250 publishers from 23 countries participated, with visitors (from both trade and consumer) exceeding 24,000. That is a significant jump from last year’s fair, which saw 154 publishers from 14 countries and 17,400 visitors. This year’s professional program offerings also grew to include 28 seminars and events.
Exhibitor-wise, there were many faces, new and familiar, from Europe. The American presence, in contrast, was underrepresented, limited only to those multinational publishers, mostly educational, with office(s) or sizeable market presence in China.
For the new (and courageous) publishers exhibiting at CCBF, confidence in their list and a healthy dose of daring is crucial to take the plunge. That was the case for international sales manager Edit Nemethi of Hungarian publisher Graph-Art, whose unique illustrated titles with 3D plates and a new four-volume book-and-app series The Cycle of Life proved popular with fair visitors. Her advice? “Put in your investment. It is now or never: do not be afraid to try.”
Dancing Penguin sales director Desmond Sansevere and Igloo Books export manager Ajay Dhawan share Nemethi’s sentiment. Independent and small publishers should take the plunge and come to CCBF and other China book events, they said. “Show your list and your face. The Chinese publishers really appreciate such effort and it truly breaks the ice,” added Sansevere. Dhawan suggested putting fear to rest and chalking up the trip as another enjoyable experience to meet new people and learn a different culture.
But success in China does require a lot of persistence and patience. Andersen Press, for instance, sold 153 picture books throughout 2014 (through rights agency Bardon-Chinese Media), but managing director and publisher Klaus Flugge started the groundwork back in 2010. “With the right partner, I do not have to be here but it is always good to be on the ground and put a face to the name—and this goes both ways for me and my publishing partners,” he said. “While I find that CCBF is both focused and specialized, I am convinced that the Beijing Book Fair remains an important event.”
Success also requires understanding how the process works in China and with the Chinese publishers. For rights sales manager Regina Irwin of Capstone, publishers need “to be aware that Chinese publishers drive a hard bargain in rights negotiation but do understand that the low price is a reflection of what they can actually price in their market.” In recent years Irwin has seen the publishers becoming more selective, and growing more sophisticated in their dealings with overseas counterparts. “Their receptiveness to unique ideas and new concepts makes this market especially good for novelties,” Irwin added.
Rick Wilks, director of Annick Press, said that his CCBF experience – his first book event in China – far exceeded his expectations. “My visitors would look at a title and go, ‘yes, this is a good fit for us.’ So, for me, there is no question about their enthusiasm for foreign titles, or whether they are buying. The question is whether the chosen title is yours.”
That enthusiasm experienced by Wilks is largely due to the fact that the Chinese children’s market needs a huge injection of new titles. “We have 370 million children below the age of 18. Yet, we only distribute 400 million new books per year. That translates into just one new book per child. It is simply inadequate,” explained Li Xueqian, president of the Chinese section of the International Board of Books for Young People. “We also have more titles from European countries than from the U.S., when the latter has so many great publishers and lists. So let’s work together to address this imbalance. Come to CCBF, the Beijing Book Fair and other events in China. Introduce your best titles to us, and get more great books to Chinese children.”
Next year’s CCBF is tentatively scheduled to run November 13–15.