At the just-concluded Shanghai International Children's Book Fair (CCBF), held from November 13 to 15, first-time exhibitors and seasoned participants were afforded yet another close-up look at the booming Chinese children's market. Both Chinese and overseas publishers are optimistic about the effects of the new two-child policy, which is set to add three million babies to the country annually. Currently, there are 370 million children below the age of 18 in China.
The domestic publishing industry, in fact, is already working towards supplying for the two-sibling family. “Inquiries on picture books about having a sibling in the family were aplenty,” said rights sales manager Anna Thylin of Capstone. “Publishers and editors that I met also asked about titles dealing with emotions, behaviors, manners, bullying, sharing and friendship,” she said, adding that titles such as Katy Hudson’s Too Many Carrots and Daniel Dunn’s I Can Be a Friend were popular at CCBF. Capstone export sales manager Michael Heitzman, on the other hand, found that “more schools are buying English titles and digital programs, and the volume ordered has increased significantly in recent months.”
In general, “fact wins over fluff in the Chinese market,” observed first-time exhibitor David Graham, managing director at Pavilion Books in the U.K., pointing out that titles with educational values and nonfiction sell well, with most publishers and editors looking for series.
Over at MMS (Macmillan Marketing Services), inquiries from Chinese publishers were mostly for mid-level science series, said sales director Andrew Macmillan, another CCBF first-timer. “We represent 20 publishers with many being too small to have either the funding to come to China or the experience to deal with the market. This is where our rights and marketing know-hows come into play, and we can get these publishers space in the market.”
Old Barn Books (U.K.) publisher Ruth Huddleston “was quite trepidatious prior to arriving in China for the first time and participating at CCBF – thinking that perhaps we are too small for the event, being seven monthsold with eight titles – but the first day has been really good despite our limited display.” There is nothing like being here on the ground, she said, “getting to know the market and people personally, and finding the right fit for our titles.”
For publisher Peter Krajlic of Slovenian press Morfemplus, the attention given to its special-needs children’s series caught him by surprise, “especially when the topic is deemed taboo within the society. But of course the Chinese market is now very open.” Krajlic’s decision to translate all titles into English eased his rights-selling process considerably, resulting in sales of about 80% of his 70-odd active titles. “CCBF, to us, is similar to Bologna in that it focuses on children’s books and trade,” he said, “and these two events have helped our export sales tremendously. This CCBF, our second, was as good and busy as the first one.”
The Chinese market, with its steep growth trajectory, remains a low-priced market with stiff price competition, mostly from online bookstores, said deputy managing director Clare Sommerville of Hachette Children’s Group in the U.K., whose team fielded mostly queries for picture books. Chinese publishers, she added, “are looking for ideas and marketing know-how to reach their audience while brick-and-mortar stores are going down the experiential route by encouraging parents to bring their kids to the stores to look at books, and participate in in-store events.”
The collaboration of Nielsen with Beijing-based Openbook, Sommerville added, “will provide improved and timely information, statistics, trends and insights for those already working in the Chinese market or those interested to start working in it.”
President Sue Yang of Seoul-based Eric Yang Agency, which exhibited at CCBF for the first time this year, concluded that “edu-comics hit its peak in China around three years ago. Now it is about maths, science, picture books, and literature for kids.” While the Chinese market has become much more diverse, Yang noted that “it is still not ready for activity books with interactivities due to the higher price points. On the other hand, selling Korean picture books is tough because our publishers don’t usually do series, which is what the Chinese market looks for. But it is a market brimming with so much sales potential.”
On the domestic front, Chinese publishers and those in the children’s segment are not just eyeing the two-child policy but also focused on providing a learning platform for kids.
Take Tencent Kid, China’s first children-oriented companion site on QQ.com, the nation’s largest portal, which “strives to provide a creative platform with tools that contribute to a child’s growth in the IT age,” said chief editor Selina She, whose team works with Disney, Nickelodeon, Sesame Street Workshop, and Nelvana/Nerd. “We are known for our Creative Development Interface, which is a virtual platform integrating and optimizing user-generated content, and is aimed at specific age groups, such as Doodler for 5-to-8, and DIY Mini-Comic for 8-to-10. The resulting content from the kids’ creativity can be shared, published, and printed. Our focus is about sparking creativity and imagination beyond what kids can learn in the classroom in a safe environment.”
As for Dandelion Children’s Book House, publisher of The Magic School Bus, it is all about bringing the best titles to Chinese kids to broaden their perspectives. “Seventy-percent of our titles, of around 600 titles, are translated bestsellers such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński's Maps,” said founder Yan Xiaoli. “The history of picture books in China is less than 10 years old – literally a baby compared to European or American markets. In that sense, as a publisher, we are working to nurture homegrown talents while supplying children with the best titles we can find, locally and overseas. But one thing in China is that author visits and signings are instrumental in pushing titles from ‘okay’ to ‘phenomenal’ sales. However, it is rare for authors or illustrators to come all the way here, and we need to work harder to persuade them.”
The Magic School Bus, by the way, remains the bestselling children’s book in the Chinese market. “We had a promotional campaign on November 11, and we sold 270,000 copies,” said Wang Yue, head of children’s division at online bookstore Dangdang, which sells half a million copies of the series in an average year.
According to Li Xueqian, president of CBBY (Chinese Board on Books for Young People) as well as president of China Children’s Press and Publication Group (CCPPG), the largest children’s publishing group in the country, the huge income inequality in the Chinese population has resulted in urban and rural parents and children seeking different types of books, from the most basic educational materials to sophisticated picture books for leisure reading. “This translates into ample opportunities for overseas publishers to target specific Chinese audiences and work with Chinese presses,” he said. “So let’s collaborate and leverage on the big and soon-to-be-even-bigger Chinese children’s book market right now.”
Given the vast potential of the Chinese market, especially with the two-child policy, the lack of large and small American children’s publishers – exhibiting or attending – for the three editions of CCBF remains puzzling to many attendees. Of the 214 overseas publishers exhibiting at this year’s CCBF, only one independent American publisher (East West Discovery Press) met visitors at the Children’s Books USA pavilion. The others sent their titles for the collective stand. Major American educational publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Cengage were there as well, though represented by their Chinese offices or partners. The lack of U.S. participation, in contrast to the large British and European contingent, has led to some grumbling among Chinese publishers, who are looking to buy more American titles to balance their lists.
Next year’s CCBF will be held in mid-November; the exact dates have not yet been announced.