The Beijing International Children’s Book Fair, occupying a full hall and running concurrently with the much larger Beijing International Book Fair from August 21 to 25, is back for a second year with its continuing focus on children’s content and licensing. Atlantyca, Clavis, La Coccinella, Scholastic, and White Star are the big names among the overseas children’s exhibitors. Of course, the Japan and Korea pavilions also hosted familiar names in the segment, including Gakken, Iwasaki, Kyowon, Poplar, Shoten, Woongjin ThinkBig, and Yeowon Media.
On the eve of the fair, a forum on children’s publishing was held, with dialogues focused on the development of China’s children book market, edutainment products, science fiction for young readers, and promoting reading to children. Fang Lu, head of the market distribution department at Poplar Cultural Development Corp., for instance, talked about how parents influence children on their choice of books, and vice versa, and how this affects the company’s strategy in promoting children’s reading. Throughout the forum, the main theme was the importance of parent/child reading habits, and of interactivity and fun.
The presence of EdTech companies at this year’s fair was obvious, with exhibitors presenting products that merge publishing, entertainment, artificial intelligence, and digital technologies. Online education company VIP Kids and e-platform Jiliguala (which recently signed a deal with Disney to develop and provide English reading courses based on its cartoons) are some of the companies looking for overseas partners with proven content, and are reaching out to younger and tech-savvy parents who tend to be more concerned about—and more willing to pay for—their children’s educational needs.
VIP Kids, interestingly, is Bob Books’ first digital partner in China. “They licensed our entire collection of 114 titles, and the content is now being integrated into VIP Kids’ learning curriculum,” said president and COO Adam Michaels, who is exhibiting at BIBF for the first time. “It is a good deal for us since the content is already there and we don’t have to deal with shipping and warehousing unlike with printed books. There is little overhead or cost involved to create a new revenue stream.” Chinese publishers are willing to pay a good price for quality content, Michaels added, pointing out that he works with these digital players on a non-exclusive basis, “which means that we can sell to multiple partners that have great curriculum and development teams for our content.”
BIBF, said Michaels, who has attended the fair four times previously, “is the single most important fair for us because we don’t just meet potential clients from China but also from other parts of the region. We are here to find local partners who know best the situation on the ground, and are looking to instill in kids a love for reading through our content.”
The many visits and inquiries coming from various Chinese publishing houses at the Bologna and Frankfurt Fairs had prompted Sarah Rucker, trade sales director at Gibbs Smith/BabyLit, to participate at BIBF. “The first day at this fair had been all about our children’s list, with Bart King’s The Big Book of Girl Stuff and The Big Book of Boy Stuff catching a lot of attention. Visitors love them for being bright and colorful, containing educational values, and for being illustrated instead of photography-based. They are also captivated by Emily Pearson’s Ordinary Mary’s Positively Extraordinary Day, which carries the message of kindness and anti-bullying at school.” Rucker was pleasantly surprised by the attention given to the Sierra Club Books series, which was published in the 1990s.
After sitting through a dozen prearranged meetings, Rucker found that “there is a potential customer for every title that I have in my catalogue. This visit is really about trying to broaden our company’s international presence, and any sales or deals would bring us a nice additional income. So there is every reason for me to be here in Beijing for this fair.”
Selecting a “boutique list” to represent the 10 publishers under its Independence Alliance brand was not an easy task for international account manager Hattie Castelberg of London-based Faber & Faber, a first-time BIBF exhibitor. “It’s not even 5% of what we have in the catalogue. But this boutique list serves as an introduction to the brands and to our company. This trip for me is about creating brand awareness, expanding our visibility, extending our reach, and understanding the market. It is about meeting new people who do not attend the major fairs such as London and Frankfurt. So far, this fair has been an eye-opener and a great window to check out the booming Chinese book market.” Classic titles, such as Ted Hughes’s The Iron Man, Castelberg added, are proving popular with booth visitors.
Another London-based publisher, Flying Eye Books, was also at BIBF for the first time. “Our list, by international artists, has different illustration styles and bold colors, and offers something new to this market,” said COO Harry Gwinner. New nonfiction title I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, by British author Michael Holland and Italian illustrator Philip Giordano, exemplifies this different-and-bold theme. “It is also a book that covers plants from different parts of the world, and its diversity appeals to my visitors.” Chinese publishers, Gwinner said, “have a sense of humor and are really passionate about their titles. They are much more open to socialize and exchange ideas and information compared to, say, six years ago—I enjoy the interactions. They are also much more discerning in title selection, and no longer buy every picture book that comes across their path.”
Kindermusik, from Greensboro, N.C., is another BIBF first-timer. Its mission—offering music-based stories and educational programs for children up to age seven—is unique to the Chinese market. “We are the largest player in early childhood music education in the U.S., and we bring to China our proven expertise of being in this field for more than 40 years and in more than 60 countries,” said president and CEO Scott Kinsey. “The opportunities are substantial, as seen from the unexpected volume of serious interest we have received at this fair.”
Brian Healy, managing partner at Education Market Experts, who has much experience in selling and working in Asia, was at BIBF to help Kinsey navigate the new market. “Kindermusik fulfills an unmet need in China. This is clear from the reactions we got, which were along the vein of ‘where have you been?’ ” Healy and Kinsey are now looking into licensing the products through three channels that target schools, children, and parents.
New York-based Benchmark Education, known for its educational books and teacher resources on English language learning, was at BIBF to soft-launch its new picture book imprint Reycraft Books. “This is about offering children different and authentic voices, and exposing them to various cultures,” said publisher Seraphim Reycraft, adding that the list—of which 24 titles are available now—is written by authors and illustrators from all over the world. Dear Abuelo, for instance, is written by Grecia Huesa Dominguez and illustrated by Teresa Martinez, whereas Dragon’s Hometown is by Hongyou Dong and illustrated by Hechen Yu. “It is a list that reflects cultural diversity and sensitivities with authentic social settings. We have shown these picture books to our booth visitors and they are very excited to have titles that will help Chinese children in understanding different cultures, values, and ways of life.”
For Nosy Crow managing director Kate Wilson, “BIBF continues to be hugely lively and very busy for us. It is actually exhausting with back-to-back meetings for two days running now.” Series, nonfiction, and stories with moral values are the demands coming from the Chinese market, “which is quite similar to the previous year. But I am seeing more willingness on their part to do co-productions.” Her visitors expressed excitement for two upcoming titles: the British Museum-branded History of the World in 25 Cities and Hannah Alice’s The Body Book. “There is ongoing enthusiasm for picture books and bilingual titles,” said Wilson, who exhibited at both the Beijing and Shanghai Fairs last year, and will be returning to Shanghai this November.