For most Asian publishers at Bologna, the fair is predominantly an opportunity to reaffirm their market presence, promote select titles and authors, and (re)connect with clients. It is a soft selling approach that sees many country’s pavilions coalescing under a specific slogan or design that make them stand out from the crowd.

Focusing on Content and Creators

Taiwan has two separate and striking pavilions this year: one hosted by the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, the other organized by the Taiwan Ministry of Culture. Both opted for nontraditional displays that throw the spotlight on illustrators and artwork (instead of the usual rows of books).

“It is a different kind of exhibit that allows the art and illustration to speak directly to the audience,” said James Chao, chairman of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation, pointing out that approximately 136 illustrations from more than 30 illustrators provide the focal point of the booth, which is named Museum of the Fantastic. This “art museum” concept and design comes from Page Tsou, illustrator of Highest Mountain, Deepest Ocean (Big Picture Press). “We want to highlight the quality of Taiwanese illustrators, especially the young ones, so that they continue to build their portfolios and make themselves known to the rest of the world,” Chao said.

Over in Hall 29, the Taiwan Ministry of Culture’s pavilion is all about “content in multiple forms.” Pavilion organizer Huang Paoping said, “While the content may start in the form of a book, it does not have to end there. The IP can be transformed and delivered in the form of merchandise, games, learning apps, and even music, for instance. The possibilities are endless, and in this age of technology and digital application, anything is possible. Our imagination is the limit.”

And imagination, Huang added, is something that children’s book writers and illustrations have in abundance. Take Julia Liu and Leo Tang’s Tony Bunny: A Rabbit with Short Ears (CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing Company), which has been published in Korean, Russian, Thai, and Turkish. The story is is inspired by the spike of children with microtia (small ears) and a desire to boost their confidence; a follow-up title, featuring the courageous short-eared bunny and his timid elephant friend, has the same goal. “In fact, illustrator Leo Tang created a piggy bank featuring the bunny and elephant to encourage children to save their coins and donate to their peers with microtia,” Huang said. “One cannot help but be inspired by these unique and uplifting titles.”

Picture books, said Huang, “transcend barriers—cultural and societal—and now, it is time for the picture book to transcend its traditional format, to move beyond print into other forms. That is the mission of this pavilion with its 45 illustrator exhibits. We want our content creators, and those from other parts of the world, to think beyond the printed pages, and to think differently.”

Pushing Technology- and Membership-based Programs

For Kyowon, one of the biggest publishers in South Korea, its picture books continue to sell well, especially new series such as the 30-volume World Folktales and 24-volume Smart Science with Book TV (which incorporates QR codes that link to videos, animations, augmented reality experiences, and virtual experiments).

But there is one big title that Kyowon is not actively promoting at the fair, and that is DoYoSe English. Launched in April 2016 after a five-year $20-million development initiative, it is currently Korea’s #1 English-learning program with sales already topping $16 million and an enrollment of more than 90,000 students. A membership-based program, DoYoSe (derived from “Do It Your Self”) English is targeted at primary schoolers ages five to 12. “DoYoSe English is an after-school program on English reading fluency and achievements,” said international rights manager Park Soo-young, pointing out that each student, paying a monthly fee of $100, is provided with a tablet PC, Smart Pen, and digital content.

There are five lessons per week for 48 weeks in the year, with each lesson delivering between seven and 13 activities. At the end of the week, students are tested before progressing to the next level, and a virtual meeting with their teacher is required to go over the week’s progress. There are currently 10 levels in the program. “The complexity of this program means that lengthy presentation and explanation is essential, and this is something not doable at book fairs where everybody is pressed for time,” said Park, adding that negotiations for the program with publishers in Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam are currently underway.

“DoYoSe English combines apps, print workbook, digital content, learning management, and virtual communication—a blend of traditional and new technologies—that makes learning fun, interactive, and effective for young children. English language learning is a huge market in Asia and other non-English speaking territories, and so we see a lot of potential for rights sales for this particular program,” Park said.

Charting the Next Big-Name Illustrator and Trends

For Yuko Nonaka, who is in charge of rights at Tokyo-based Kaisei-sha, though the presence of Japanese exhibitors has definitely decreased this year, the fair itself seems busier. “This is my 14th Bologna, and I am seeing even more editors and visitors from different countries compared to previous years.”

At the previous Bologna, Kaisei-sha author Akiko Miyakoshi received a special mention at the BolognaRagazzi Awards. Her picture books—Walking Home Through the Night and The Tea Party in the Woods—are now available in English from Kids Can Press. “In Japan, there are three big names in children’s books: Taro Gomi, Taro Miura, and Komoko Sakai. Akiko has the potential to be the next one,” said Nonaka, whose 81-year-old company was shortlisted for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publishers (Asian category) again this year.

Trend-wise, activity, counting, and game-based titles were popular three to five years ago, according to Nonoka. “We had great success with Toshio Iwai’s 100 Stories series. Then the popularity of Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinska’s Maps threw the spotlight on illustrated nonfiction, and that category became very popular. This year, we are seeing a return to titles with beautiful illustrations and unique storylines.”

Interestingly, Kaisei-sha has been working very closely with industry counterparts Fukuinkan Shoten, Iwasaki Shoten, and Kodansha to produce a series of tactile picture books with Braille for Japanese children. “We share the technology so as to defray the production costs, and we market the books—currently at around 62 titles—together as a part of our social responsibility and awareness campaign. We believe that visually impaired children should be able to read and enjoy the same picture books that are available to others. While we are not promoting these titles to overseas publishers, we are exhibiting them at this fair to show that Braille can be applied successfully and effectively to picture books.”

Working on Social Responsibility and Beyond

Responsibility is also a major topic at Beijing-based Children’s Fun Publishing Company, a joint venture between Egmont Group and Posts & Telecommunications Press. “We are talking about social responsibility that goes beyond worker welfare and environmental protection. Sustainability when it comes to printing and selecting the correct printing partners is equally important,” said general manager Ao Ran.

Then of course, there is the responsibility in terms of copyright protection. “China has made a lot of progress in terms of copyright protection since it signed onto the Berne Convention in 1992; prior to that, everything that was written was in the public domain in China. And we need copyright protection in order to promote authorship, and protect our homegrown IPs. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done,” said Ao, whose company, due to the nature of its conception, undergoes four different audits in a year. “The audits keep us on the straight and narrow, and make us aware of the importance of regulation and protection.”

Recent months have seen Ao and his team raking in sales from Minecraft. Launched in December 2016, it has sold more than 400,000 copies. “Such game-based titles work very successfully in Europe, and now they are proven to work in China as well,” said Ao. “Parents and teachers also find that these titles are educational and ‘healthier’ compared to other game-based products. So there is the responsibility of a publisher to ensure that a title that it brings to the market is appropriate and good for the children.”

Ao and his team are among the contingent of 128 people from China to attend Bologna this year. The China Pavilion, organized by China Children’s Press & Publication Group, hosts 35 publishing companies and exhibits over 2,750 titles. This being its fourth Bologna, the pavilion now has a 400-meter-square exhibition space. Come next year, with China the guest of honor, a much bigger pavilion and contingent are to be expected. (For more on China’s children’s publishers and book market, check out our recent supplement.)