By all accounts, dwindling sales and squeezed budgets have forced Asian children’s publishers to rev up rights exports while tamping down the urge to translate any and every bestseller from the West. Trendiness is a lesser concern for these publishers now than market demand. They see a market fatigue for dystopian and paranormal titles in the fast-growing YA and middle-grade segments, and believe that folktales and cute illustrations are no longer enough to sell picture books.
Established markets such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are doing brisk rights sales of original picture books, edu-comics, and manga. China, on the other hand, exemplifies the emerging markets that have made use of the (hitherto) one-way traffic of rights buying—especially of award-winning picture books and classics—to raise quality and standards in their own markets. And everywhere PW looks, intra-regional rights trade is flourishing.
In the 10 ASEAN member countries, children’s and YA publishing are the fastest growing book segments, says Triena Noeline Ong, president of both the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) and ASEAN Book Publishers Association, attributing the growth to “new opportunities created by interactive e-books, growing affluence of the populace, and increasing importance placed on preschool and kindergarten education.” Naturally, there are challenges. “For Singapore’s publishers, who are only now going into interactive e-books, the massive availability of e-books from the West is a major challenge,” says Ong. “For other ASEAN publishers, the variety of local languages is a stumbling block. However, since children’s books are heavily illustrated with little text, they can be easily translated and converted to e-books and interactive media.”
Technology has certainly permeated every part of the publishing chain. China and Taiwan publishers, for instance, are adopting social networking on top of traditional marketing channels, and online bookstores are steadily expanding their market share, observes director Yu-Shiuan Chen of Bardon-Chinese Media Agency, whose Taipei and Beijing offices have been selling Japanese originals in addition to American and European titles for over 25 years.
But whether it is importing or exporting, falling birth rates remain the bane of children’s book publishers anywhere. In Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, publishers have already taken steps to beat this alarming trend. “Taiwanese publishers, for instance, are going for the best titles possible—in terms of content quality or author popularity—or niche topics, and hoping that these are attractive enough for parents and children,” says v-p Wendy King of Shanghai-based Big Apple Agency, the oldest rights agency in China, with branches in Beijing and Taipei. “One thing is constant: parents prefer stories with educational value.”
At the upcoming Bologna Children’s Book Fair, publishers and rights agencies will go all out to push familiar names and promising newbies for sure. To prepare you for the fair, here is a preview of what’s selling, brewing or cooling off in the region.
Mainland Chinese publishers continue to seek out series, award winners, and classics when it comes to picture books, says Yu-Shiuan Chen, director of Bardon-Chinese Media Agency. “For YA titles, those with movie tie-ins, such as the Percy Jackson series, are the most sought after. Craft books also sell well, as do those on art appreciation.” says. Parents and teachers constitute the bulk of buyers of picture books and YA titles. “They prefer stories with educational value that provide practical knowledge, stimulate the brain or build character,” says Chen. For YA fiction, translated titles, even Hunger Games, have found it hard to compete with local titles for teenagers’ attention. “The only YA megahit thus far has been Twilight.” Chen also points out that China’s emerging e-book market affects adult titles more than children’s books, and “piracy concerns are making overseas publishers think twice about granting digital rights, especially for picture books.”
Among the 1,000-odd deals signed by Chen with Chinese publishers last year were the My First Discovery series (from Gallimard); Percy Jackson and the Olympian series; Kathryn Lasky’s Wolves of the Beyond series; Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You; and 365 Things to Make and Do (Usborne). “We also sold Mitsumasa Anno’s Anno’s Medieval World and Tatsuya Miyanishi’s Chiccha na Torraku Red-Kun (Little Red Truck) and Taro Gomi’s Sekai wa Kininaru Kotobakari (The World Is Full of Extraordinary Events).” Recent sales include Jane Hissey’s Old Bear series, Megan Crewe’s trilogy Fallen World, as well as Japanese originals Akiko Hayashi’s I’m Going Camping and Rieko Nakagawa’s The Blue Seed.
Last year’s picture book craze has more or less died out, with many publishers waking up to the folly of blindly following trends, says Wendy King, v-p of Big Apple Agency. “In 2013, we expect to see many publishers going for more brain-stimulating series, graded reading comprehension series, reference series and award-winning picture book series. Obviously, in China, series sell much better than single titles,” says King.
Several big titles signed by Big Apple Agency with Chinese publishers last year have done very well. Andy Riley’s The Book of Bunny Suicides, for instance, has sold upward of 185,000 copies, while the 14-volume Childcraft: The How and Why Library series has already exceeded 158,000 copies. Fifty-five of Gail Gibbons’s titles, handled by Beijing-based senior agent Wanda Zhou, are also very successful. “Co-edition deals remain a challenge mostly because of the cost involved, while the e-book market for children’s and YA titles is still focused on local originals or translated classics,” says King. Last year, the agency’s China team handled more than 1,300 contracts, including Hunger Games. King is now busy promoting Shanghai-based Chinese-Canadian author–illustrator Trevor Lai to publishers in China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. Lai’s latest title, Piggy in Love, revolves around the love problems of young professionals in China.
New original picture books with strong storylines are harder to come by, says president and CEO Yurika Yoshida of Japan Foreign-Rights Centre (JFC). “But now,” says Yoshida, “we have many attractively designed and well-crafted edutainment books. Toshio Iwai’s A House of 100 Stories, for instance, has 630,000 copies in print since its 2008 launch, while Masayuki Sebe’s Let’s Count to 100 was sold to many countries including France, Belgium, Canada, and Germany.” (Both titles are published by Kaisei-sha.)
Sebe’s latest, 100 Monkeys, will be among those titles heading to Bologna. “Other big titles are the companion volume to Taro Miura’s The Tiny King, a collection of nine board books by Taro Gomi, and the fourth title in Ken Kimura/Yasunari Murakami’s 999 Tadpoles series. The German edition of the first Tadpoles title was nominated for the 2012 German Youth Literature Prize, creating quite a buzz for the series.” The Tiny King (from Kaisei-sha) was Yoshida’s biggest title in 2012, with rights sold in the U.K. and the U.S. (Walker Books and Candlewick Press, respectively), France, Mexico, China, Taiwan and Korea. Also, Tomoko Ohmura’s Animals’ Long Long Line (from Poplar), a picture book for children aged three and up, was sold to five countries, including Spain and Germany.
Komako Sakai’s Little Hanna, also from Kaisei-sha, is another success. “Since promotion started at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair, we have sold it to France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and New Zealand,” says Yoshida. “Domestically, more than 30,000 copies are in circulation since November.” In total, JFC sold more than 500 picture books/YA titles in 2012, with China being its biggest market for three years running. JFC’s exclusive partnership with Bardon-Chinese Media Agency for the Chinese-language market, with joint promotion at Beijing and Taipei book fairs, seems to have worked very well.
With a shrinking domestic market, Japanese publishers are working to increase sales through rights selling. “There are more requests from overseas publishers to include electronic rights,” observes Yoshida. “However, since Japanese publishers are not active in e-book publishing, it is tough to negotiate digital rights with them or their authors.”
For Kaisei-sha last year, selling 112 titles was good, but having The Tiny King picked up by Walker Books/Candlewick Press was even better, since no Kaisei-sha title has been sold to the U.K. since the 1970s. “I’m also seeing a lot of interest from South American publishers, and more competition from Brazil and Mexico to retain world rights for Portuguese and Spanish languages respectively,” says Yuko Nonaka, who is in charge of foreign rights, adding that mainland Chinese publishers bought 57 titles.
Other 2012 bestsellers include Tamiko Yagi’s Little Hogge (about an ugly doll that becomes a part of a family), Chihiro Ishizu/Kumiko Nakazawa’s The Wonders of Shops (a collection of 50 riddles about various shops, now in its 10th printing, with 105,000 copies sold since September 2011), and Toshio Iwai’s A House of 100 Stories and An Underground House of 100 Stories. “Little Hogge is so popular that librarians and booksellers have been creating their own Hogge puppets and tweeting the pictures online. Merchandising, starting with a Little Hogge soft toy, is set for next spring,” says Nonaka. The team has published Tomy Donbavando’s six-volume Scream Street and will soon launch Giles Laroche’s If You Lived Here and Eric Carle’s The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.
Aside from Komako Sakai’s Little Hanna (about a girl wandering around the house alone after waking in the middle of the night), the upcoming Bologna will see Nonaka promoting Ryoji Arai’s It’s Morning So I’ll Open the Window, Masayuki Sebe’s 100 Monkeys, Yutaka Nakagaki’s The Line (with detailed illustrations of 300–500 people on each spread) and Satoshi Kitamura’s My Sweet Hot-Water Bottle (about a hot-water bottle trying to escape a girl’s cold feet). Arai’s book, based on visits to areas hit by the 2011 Japan earthquake, was published in December 2011. It has since won one of Japan’s biggest children’s book awards, and named 2011 best picture book by two children’s magazines.
While translated picture books are popular in Japan, the same cannot be said for translated YA. In the first place, the YA genre was vaguely defined in Japan, initially applied to books on parental divorce, bullying, family problems and adolescent issues. “It has since been expanded and is gradually treated as ranobe, or light novels.” says Nonaka. “ ‘Light’ has a double meaning here: physically light as with paperbacks, and light-hearted or entertaining.” (Kaisei-sha’s bestselling YA series is the 2009 Batchelder Award winner Moribito, which is now available in eight languages.)
Long considered one of Japan’s top five children’s publishers, Iwasaki Publishing is best known domestically for two series by Yasuko Ambiru (Little Witch Co.: Dress Remaking Shop, which includes tutorials on making simple handicrafts; and Lulu and Rara, which features simple dessert recipes from two girls’ confectionery shop), as well as Mamoru Suzuki’s picture book Bird’s Nests. Lulu and Rara, currently in its 18th volume, has more than one million copies in circulation. Other bestselling originals include Ryusuke Saito’s Mochi Mochi Tree (1.5 million copies sold) and Blooming Mountain, and Shiro Yadama’s Fair, Then Partly Piggy.
Iwasaki releases around 150 new titles annually and its current catalogue has about 8,000 publications, 10% of which are YA titles. Translations have increased in recent years, accounting for nearly 40% of its front list now. Emily Rodda’s Deltora Quest, Kate McMullan’s Dragon Slayers’ Academy, John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever, and Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion are among the translated bestsellers.
Last year, the team translated Shirley Parenteau’s Bears in Beds (60,000 copies printed since its August launch), Phillis Gershator’s Time for a Hug, and Michaela Morgan’s Knock! Knock! Open the Door. “The past few years has been tough for the children’s and YA market in Japan,” says chairman and CEO Hiroaki Iwasaki. “Manga is the only strong segment, even in the school library market. Nevertheless, we have continued publishing books and not manga, in line with our goal of encouraging children to read.” Iwasaki will be promoting several originals at Bologna, especially author Ambiru’s books.
Thirty-two years on, Thomas the Tank Engine remains popular with Japanese children and is one of Poplar Publishing’s most successful translations in the company’s 67-year history. Another huge series, translated much later, is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Overall, Thomas has sold upward of 16 million copies, while Wimpy Kid racked up sales exceeding 480,000 copies. As for Poplar originals, three series—the 52-volume Kaiketsu Zorori, 12-volume Magic Garden, and 16-volume The Dropout Witch—never fail to make the top 10 whenever a new volume is released. The animated version of Zorori has been shown in several countries, including France (Boomerang), Portugal (RTP 2), and Taiwan (Cartoon Network).
With about 370 new children’s titles added to its catalogue every year—90% of which are originals—Poplar has plenty to choose from for Bologna. This year, it will be promoting the Tyrannosaurus series, Mission 100, My New Room with My New Friend, and Magic Garden. “Asia remains our biggest rights market, with most titles going to Taiwan, China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand,” says rights manager Junko Saegusa.
With five bookstores in four major Chinese cities, Poplar is the only Japanese publisher to venture overseas in such a big way. Its two bookstores in Shanghai and one in Beijing are doing well, since they stock titles not available anywhere else. “But business in Tianjin and Shenyang is slow-moving because the locals tend to buy from e-bookstores, whose prices are half those of brick-and-mortar outlets,” adds Saegusa.
The economic downturn has much to do with the 30% drop in children’s book sales in South Korea in 2012, says Sue Yang, president of Eric Yang Agency (EYA). “The spread of smart devices also makes it easy for young people to get hooked on Internet games and social media instead of reading books.” This downturn, however, has made publishers turn more to rights export. “Our Beijing office, for instance, is capitalizing on the Korean wave brought about by the popularity of Korean pop, or K-pop, to introduce more originals to the Chinese market,” says Yang. “We have also expanded our sales regionally and globally.”
Domestically, according to senior agent Henry Shin, YA e-books have made a foray into the market, but it is still early. While publishers are not actively digitizing their picture books, app development is fast gathering momentum. Shin’s team recently handled Matt Haig’s The Humans, Kate Williams’s Absent, Andrew Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes, and Gayle Forman’s Just One Day/Just One Year. Adds Yang: “Korean publishers now go for real-life stories and coming-of-age titles. Blockbusters like Twilight and Diary of a Wimpy Kid are successful, but other similar titles less so. Hunger Games made it to the Korean bestseller list but sold less than Twilight, and the Twilight movie had dismal showing.”
The current bestseller list is interesting in that there are no new titles. Instead, there are familiar and steady sellers that have been around for a while, such as Wimpy Kid and Franziska Biermann’s Herr Fuchs mag Bucher for the middle grade, and picture books I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak and Apples by Hiroshi Tada. At Bologna, EYA will be looking for titles to bring into Korea while promoting a handful of picture books and middle-grade fiction (including Lee Rury’s Coda the Polar Bear, Jin-Kyung Kim’s The Cat School, and Wan-Suh Park’s The Bicycle Thief), edu-comics from various publishers (such as GimmYoung’s Selected 50 Greatest Classic Stories and RHK’s Fantasy Math Wars series), and a K-pop title based on the Super Junior band.
With the South Korean picture book market mirroring the gloomy global and domestic economy, publishers have been slashing book prices by as much as 70% in order to increase sales. Kyowon, one of the biggest publishing groups, however, is not dependent on retail, as its 30,000-odd representatives only sell door to door. Its books, sold in full sets domestically, are priced between $300 and $600 with no discounts.
All Story, under which Kyowon story books are branded, has about 100 editors working on 10–12 series (400–500 titles) per year. A recent count shows a total of 57 series, consisting of some 2,600 titles, with translations taking up only 3% of its 2012 catalogue. International rights manager Park Sooyoung has selected five series for Bologna: First Step for Smart Children; Curiosity: Questioning Science; The First Math Storybook for Smart Children; Children’s View of Economy; and Children’s First English Storybook.
Last year, Park and his team sold the rights to 140 titles, with Let’s Play with the Environment, Hello, World Classic, and Adventures in Science topping the list. “Our main markets remain China, Taiwan, and Thailand, although we have expanded to the U.S., Russia, Switzerland, and others,” adds Park, whose editorial team developed 12 series (441 titles) and 26 apps in 2012. The apps, which provide additional knowledge and games for each series, are available through MyPad, a tablet PC developed and sold by Kyowon. Some are available on the App Store. “Our apps, priced between $6 and $37 each, are more expensive than others in the market. But since over 110,000 downloads have been made, quality clearly trumps price.”
No story on Kyowon is complete without mentioning Aesop’s Theatre. This 39-episode 3-D animation is now broadcast in 44 countries with book rights sold to four countries. Five Aesop apps are on the App Store, while another four apps are available through Kyowon’s MyPad. “Another title with 3-D illustrations, the 50-volume Animated Fairy Tales of the World, have been sold to China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, with Thai rights under negotiation.” Meanwhile, two series—Musical Stories and Biography of the Great Minds—are being translated into Arabic, to be published as e-books for the UAE government.
“Picture books in English have to compete with imported titles on quality, thus they tend to be hardcover and pricier than those in Malay,” says publisher and owner Linda Tan-Lingard of Integra Majujaya, one of the few picture book publishers in Malaysia. “On average, a local English-language picture book sells for $6.50 and above, whereas a Malay one may cost only half as much.” In general, cheap imports and educational titles remain an impediment to local publishing. The picture book segment is considered difficult, she says, “because parents are reluctant to spend on thin books with few words that are not obviously educational.” Increased government involvement and more local publishers participating in the segment are good news for Tan-Lingard, who has started to buy rights to picture books—something that local publishers tend not to do—and increasing translations to 30% this year. At the last Bologna, she purchased a few titles from the UAE, Syria, and Morocco.
YA and tween titles in Malay are good markets, as sales can exceed 20,000 copies, adds Tan-Lingard, who is also director of Yusof Gajah Lingard Literary Agency. “However, we need more variety for this category, so I am looking into translating good titles, not necessarily blockbusters. I have been introduced to several German publishers through my Frankfurt Fellowship program last year, and I am very keen to introduce some of their titles to Malaysian readers.” Meanwhile, she is working with Taipei-based Moker to turn her picture books into animated titles.
The first picture book from Integra was published in 2008, followed soon by a six-volume animal series. Today, Integra has more than 40 titles, mostly under the Oyez!books imprint. One of Integra’s newest titles, Kailash, garnered a lot of interest at Bologna. Illustrated by Khairul and written by Sue Quek, this 48-page big-format picture book about warring zebra and okapi highlights the plight of refugees. (Quek has since formed One-for-One Books, under which one copy of her books will be given to an underprivileged child for every copy sold. Integra is helping to promote the three books that Quek has published.) At Bologna, Tan-Lingard will be promoting a 10-title series based on popular local mouse deer folktales, and Singaporean artist Susanna Goho-Quek’s picture book A Night at the Opera.
Harry Potter still sells steadily in this city-state, while demand for Twilight and Hunger Games has dwindled. “Series by Ally Condie and Veronica Roth were popular for a while, as were those by John Marsden, Neal Shusterman, and Caragh O’Brien,” says storyteller (and promotions manager) Denise Tan of 12-year-old specialist children’s bookshop Bookaburra. Last year, The Hunger Games, The Hobbit, and The Mortal Instruments #1: City of Bones topped its YA list, while picture books by Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo and What the Ladybird Heard) and Jonny Duddle (The Pirate Cruncher) sold the most. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a surprise hit recently,” says Tan. “We read it once for story time, and our staff love it so much that we have been promoting it to teachers and parents. Now we are trying to keep up with the demand,” adds Tan, who considers titles selling above 100 copies as bestsellers.
Both Bookaburra outlets offer around 20,000 titles, 99% of which are in English, and have a small space for storytelling for about 10 kids. The storytelling sessions, held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, have weekly themes. “For instance, we did stories on colors using Leo Lionni’s Little Blue and Little Yellow, Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days, and Herve Tullet’s Press Here, followed by finger-painting.” Then there were themed book fairs at shopping malls, such as Awesome Animals (featuring animal puppet theater and live animal shows) and All Things Julia Donaldson (with a Gruffalo movie screening as well as ladybird bag and dinosaur egg painting). Last year, shop owner Cheryle Hum and her team also made promotional visits to more than 100 primary schools, 20 international schools, and several secondary schools, preschools and study centers.
Best known for its YA series Diary of Amos Lee, Epigram Books used to be a division of an award-winning design firm. It now has 20 children’s/YA titles under its belt, 13 of which were produced after its incorporation as a publishing company in July 2011. Publisher and CEO Edmund Wee plans to bring out 50 children’s/YA titles this year, including an eight-volume series featuring boy investigator Sherlock Sam, a nine-volume murder mystery series, a 10-volume collection of fairy tales (retold by prominent Singaporean celebrities), and around six translated picture books. Two more graphic novels—Dave Chua/Xiao Yan’s The Girl Under the Bed and Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye—will also be added to the three published last year. “Getting Singapore educators and parents to accept graphic novels as a legitimate literary art form has been difficult,” says Wee, who hopes to change that with Epigram Books’ well-received list.
In contrast, rights to Adeline Foo’s Diary of Amos Lee have been sold to China, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and India. The first volume (I Sit, I Write, I Flush!), published in 2009, sold 50,000 copies locally and over 70,000 copies worldwide. Another bestselling YA author is SherMay Loh, whose first two Archibald titles were 2011 and 2012 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards winners.
“Translations account for about 15% of our list, and we pick four to eight picture books annually for translation,” adds Wee, acknowledging that homegrown picture books have been struggling to gain traction. “Our first homegrown picture book, Jin-pyn Lee’s The Elephant and the Tree, sold out its 1,000-copy first printing back in 2006 and was duly acquired by Running Press Kids. We want to replicate this success.”
For the very young, simple books with a humorous style of illustration and touching storylines are more popular than those with sophisticated art, says director Yu-Shiuan Chen of Bardon-Chinese Media Agency. As for YA titles, she notes that “international bestsellers with fresh angles, romantic elements, and a sense of reality are more welcomed now than vampire and paranormal stories, which were selling very well in the past three years.” Taiwan’s YA fiction readership is much wider than China’s, with more adult publishers adding YA fiction to their programs. “But these publishers are very selective. After Twilight, there has been no obvious megahit, although Aprilynne Pike’s Wings, Andrew Clements’s titles, Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why and Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries are doing quite well. YA e-books, on the other hand, have a limited readership because the younger generation much prefer to play games and watch shows on their smart devices rather than read.”
As for e-picture books, adds Chen, those by local authors and illustrators are more popular and more readily available, mostly because it is much easier for local publishers to work with these creators. Last year, Chen and her team signed nearly 500 deals in Taiwan, including William Joyce’s Guardian of Childhood series, Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, and Taro Miura’s Bus Ga Kimashita (Here Comes the Bus). She expects several American and European bestsellers recently licensed to China or Taiwan to make the bestseller list in the Chinese markets, including the series Asterix and Where’s Wally, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.
Translated Japanese picture books are still more popular than those from the U.S. and Europe. Cultural similarity does come into play, observes v-p Wendy King of the Big Apple Agency, adding that “although Taiwan’s e-book market is progressing rapidly, children continue to view iPads or smartphones as devices for games and videos rather than for reading. In any case, most parents prefer their kids to read printed books.”
In total, about 500 contracts were signed with Taiwanese publishers last year. Bestsellers handled by Taipei-based rights manager Vincent Lin included Leslie McGuire’s Brush Your Teeth Please, Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and the co-edition of J.H. Lee’s Boo: Little Dog in the Big City. In the YA segment, Moira Young’s Dust Lands series and Abigail Gibbs’s The Dark Heroine series topped Big Apple’s list. “YA novels do well here because they are published as crossovers, although the original title may not be a crossover. One good example is P.C. Cast’s House of Night series, published by Locus Publishing, which was one of the most anticipated titles at the 2012 Taipei book fair,” adds Lin.
Over at Grimm Press, its children’s e-reader TellyBear (with 100 preloaded stories), launched in November 2010, has sold more than 10,000 units. The 40-title second-generation TellyBear will be out this year, selling at just $160, half the price of the predecessor. “A dedicated platform will also enable users with Wi-Fi access to peruse and download more than 300 e-picture books [ePBs],” says publisher K.T. Hao, whose team is preparing the British English version of the ePBs while collaborating with children publishers such as Walker Books, Penguin, and Hachette on the platform.
“Our survey also shows that TellyBear is mostly bought for 4–10-year-olds to read classics such as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. So developing this tablet to encourage reading in a format other than print makes great sense to us. Our products can now be sold through traditional bookstores, gift shops, and even computer and appliances shops. The latter naturally have more experience handling electronic products such as Tellybear—know-how that traditional bookstores may not have.” One Pizza, One Penny remains Grimm’s top title in both print and ePB formats. Best Friends, The Magic Book, Little Stone Buddha, and The Little Mermaid took up the other top five slots for ePBs in 2012.
Last year, 66 new books were released. Among them was illustrator Roberta Angaramo’s Mommy and I, which combines augmented reality (AR) technology with print for iPhone users to see the embedded animation on the pages. For illustrator Wladimir Dowgialo’s The Selfish Giant, readers can download a special Grimm app, and then play the animated story by scanning the book cover. These and other titles will go to Bologna, including The Most Beautiful Smile (illustrated by Eva Montanari), Where Are You Going, Buffalo?, and Rashomon.
At Locus Publishing, several translated YA titles have done very well. Hunger Games, with sales exceeding 400,000 copies, is one of them. Then there is the House of Night series, now with nine titles published. “We also translated Colleen Houck’s Tiger saga, with The Tiger’s Destiny due out this year,” says owner Rex How, whose team will also release Christopher Pike’s Thirst series, Lauren DeStefano’s The Chemical Garden trilogy and Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky trilogy. “Not every popular YA title can become a translated bestseller in Taiwan, as readers here prefer less serious subjects, such as mystery, crime, horror, and thrillers.”
In the picture book segment, Jimmy Liao remains Locus’s bestselling author/illustrator. Spain’s Barbara Fiore Editora bought three Liao titles in October, while China’s Dolphin Books has acquired 26 of his older titles. His new works—It Was Not a Long Long Time Ago, I Wish I Could Make a Wish, The Rainbow of Time, and The Starry Starry Night—will be the focus at Bologna, says How, who will bring along Chin-Lun Lee’s Every Day Is a Good Day and Sean Chuang’s The Window. “We will also be looking to introduce at the fair A Youthful Journey Through the Classics, previously titled Chinese Classics for Children.” Opportunities in Taiwan’s children’s book market, adds How, lie in “not just cultivating local authors but also making good use of resources in mainland China and elsewhere.”
The past decade has been good to the Thai children’s book market, which has grown faster than other book segments. Says managing director Risuan Aramcharoen of Plan For Kids Company, “The YA segment is more varied with more translated titles. Edu-comics, for instance, is growing faster than other genres because teenagers like to be entertained while learning and they can afford to buy it for themselves.” Thai parents, adds Aramcharoen, may buy a coloring book thinking that it will help improve their kids’ reading skills. Also, teachers use activity books much more than storybooks in class, again thinking that it is sufficient. Furthermore, teachers are not promoting reading or exploring integrative ways of instruction that will promote both learning and reading. She further points out that, with a large chunk of government funding going into the One Tablet Per Child campaign, schools will have fewer new books this year.
Back in January 1997, it was the lack of publications for young children that prompted the owner to establish Plan for Kids. Since then, it has been publishing preschool activity books, educational materials, and storybooks, as well as handbooks for parents-to-be and teachers. Its current catalogue of 500-odd titles comprises roughly 70% originals and 30% translations (mostly from Europe). Among its bestsellers are educational series Kung King (20 titles; over one million copies sold) and Boosting Your EQ with Dino Gang.
In addition to its 100-staff publishing division, which produces nearly 100 titles a year, Plan for Kids has a book kiosk at the Children’s Hospital and a bookshop occupying one floor of its Bangkok head office. “Bookstores here are general in nature with dedicated children’s book corners, like our bookshop. With more couples both working nowadays, online shopping has become an obvious trend in the last five years.” So ramping up its online services and offering e-books and apps (branded under “Happy Books”) are essential for survival.
Say ‘Aye’ to Apps
In Asia, where a huge portion of the world’s children’s products are made, major manufacturers have been quick to expand their services to digital publishing solutions. Trademarked brands FamLoop (from Leo Paper Group) and BelugaBloo (Hung Hing Printing Group), for instance, are established to boost clients’ print book business with apps and interactive e-books. For publishers, it makes perfect sense to create their print and digital products under one roof.
For FamLoop, it has been a busy 10 months since its launch at the O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) New York conference. More than 12 children’s bookstore apps and 30 interactive children’s titles have been released on Apple’s App Store, many for Leo Paper’s long-time customers. These apps include Fisher-Price’s Little People Zoo Flap Book (Reader’s Digest), LearnEnglish Kids’ Phonics Stories (British Council), and The World of Fairytales (IMP Interactive). There is also FamLoop’s lift-the-flap app, Punky Dunk and Friends.
“We see opportunities for creating shared experiences between children and their families in every title. While the concept of storytelling in the family has evolved, we believe the desire for shared reading and learning experiences, and family bonding, remains the same,” says group managing director Johnny Fung of Leo Paper, pointing out that FamLoop’s Connect iPhone app allows parents and invited family members to follow and cheer on a child’s reading journey from any location. “Over time, this family network will expand, thereby increasing the app’s visibility and creating the viral awareness. It will get the app noticed and discovered by more people.”
With publishers undecided about which title or what content to develop into apps, the FamLoop team often go through the publisher’s content database, make proposals and then prioritize content that has the potential to provide the best shared experience. The process, from content search and brainstorming to app launch, takes about six weeks. “The FamLoop platform enables quick and cost-effective apps creation that include features such as animation, read aloud and finger painting. The set-up cost is kept reasonable, and we share the profits at a percentage agreed with the publishing client.” The app could lead to a new print volume with the original characters and plot, an offshoot series featuring secondary characters, or a whole range of interactive e-books. “The possibilities are infinite, as are the opportunities to create new revenues on top of the existing print book business,” adds Fung.
Fairs and Festivals for Children: Bookaroo Literature Festival
With more than 1.5 billion children in Asia, not surprisingly, there is no lack of fairs or festivals promoting and celebrating children’s books and literature. Every country has its national, or even international, book event with a dedicated section for children and young adults. The Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand organizes the Book Festival for Young People, while over in Ueno, Japan, the three-day Parents and Children’s Festival is held annually to coincide with its Children’s Day on May 5. Then there are Singapore’s Asian Festival of Children’s Content and India’s Bookaroo Literature Festival, reported below.
Organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) to develop children’s content, promote Asian content, and provide worldwide access, the inaugural festival in 2010 hosted 442 participants from 12 countries. Three years on, the number has grown to 887 participants from 19 countries. The increase has led AFCC to relocate from the Arts House to the Singapore National Library for this year’s event, running from May 25 to 30.
A special Project Splash Asia, organized to celebrate 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, will publish a bibliography and collection of favorite water-themed children’s stories from or about the region. Suzy Lee’s Wave, Holly Thompson/Kazumi Wilds’s The Wakame Gatherers, and Tulika Publishers’ Water Tales from Around the World will be among the selection. “We hope that such bibliographic compilations of children’s stories around a universal theme will be a regular AFCC feature to showcase the diversity of talents and children’s literature in this region,” says executive director R. Ramachandran of NBDCS. “In addition to the conferences, workshops, and illustrators gallery, AFCC 2013 will feature more publishers and content creators, with an emphasis on trading and business transactions at the Media Mart and Rights Fair.”
This festival’s fifth outing last November attracted more than 70 speakers, including seven from overseas, and 20,000-plus visitors over the weekend. It has grown from the initial two-day event with 3,000 attendees over the weekend to the present three days. Frané Lessac, Nadia Budde, Petr Horacek, Louise-Marie Cumont, Penny Dolan, and Ulf Stark were among last year’s foreign guests. Held at Sanskriti Kendra, a museum and artist’s retreat in Delhi, this festival is organized by the Bookaroo Trust, which was co-founded by former journalists Swati Roy and M. Venkatesh (also owners of Eureka Bookshop in Delhi).
Bookaroo in the City (BIC), the festival’s outreach program, has now grown from eight schools to 104. Authors, storytellers and performers hold storytelling, dramatized reading, and illustration workshops, as well as author interactions in English and regional languages with schoolchildren.