The Chinese home of Cipollino, Pippi Longstocking, Le petit Nicolas, and Tintin, China Children’s Press & Publication Group is the largest publisher in terms of output in the nation. The result of a merger between China Teenagers Press and China Children’s Publishing House in 2000, the group now has five newspapers and 13 periodicals, giving it a 25% stake in the children’s newspaper and magazine market. Annually, the group publishes 1,500 titles, of which one-third are original works and 20% are translations.
CCPPG is also a company on the verge of transforming itself into a service-oriented publisher. Its Juvenile & Children Reading Experience Wonderland is an experiment in bucking the conventional publishing model that has proven successful. Its fee-based experiential reading programs are attracting more schools around Beijing than ever and attracting the attention of CCPPG’s industry counterparts. (For more on Wonderland, see p. 4.)
“Reading is essential to a child’s development, and reading classes have been introduced at more schools throughout China,” says Li Xueqian, president of CCPPG (as well as president of the Chinese section of the International Board of Books for Young People). “But how effective are these classes? Are the teachers equipped to teach reading? Do schoolchildren have the appropriate resources to get them interested in reading, learning, and thinking? These questions have pushed me to establish the Wonderland and to seek ways in which to improve its services.”
Li is fond of citing Scholastic as a model of effective and successful reading and publishing programs. “[Scholastic] introduces bestsellers, holds pop-up book fairs at schools, organizes reading camps, recommends reading lists, and hosts book clubs,” he says. “All these activities create a strong brand for Scholastic through direct interaction with its readers, allowing it to get entrenched in a child’s reading life. That is the best practice that I would like to adapt to the Chinese market.”
China’s 2020 education reform is also not far from Li’s mind. “With less homework, fewer standardized exams, decreased rote learning, and more emphasis on reading for leisure and general knowledge, these changes in the educational system will shift the publishing industry,” he says. “For CCPPG, there has never been a more urgent need to ensure the availability of high-quality reading resources and services to aid a child’s learning process and needs.”
During the course of expanding the Wonderland’s reach and services through collaborations with schools, teachers, and local governments, Li and his team have identified needs for (and gaps in) niche educational content. “This is where we come in with custom publishing,” Li explains. “Safety education, for instance, is one area where schools do not have the appropriate content and resources. So on December 2, which is National Traffic Safety Day, our team launched a traffic-safety kit—with guidebook, role-playing aids, reflective safety items, and so on—priced at CNY 3,500. What took us a month to conceptualize and produce sold 500 units within hours.”
Meanwhile, the quest to produce high-quality original works continues. Among the picture books headlining the CCPPG catalogue this year is A Feather, written by Cao Wenxuan and illustrated by Roger Mello, both Andersen award winners. A second top title is Fang Suchen’s Grandma Lives in the Fragrance Village, illustrated by Sonja Danowski.
The above works mark the start of Li’s “cross-cultural exchange program,” which pairs Chinese authors/illustrators with their overseas counterparts. “The pairing makes the works acceptable locally while imbuing the content with an international flavor suitable for export,” he says. “This is one way we address the imbalance in rights traffic, which is flowing mostly one-directionally, into China.” That said, Li has purchased a lot of well-known titles such as the Tintin series and Astrid Lindgren’s works, in order to provide Chinese children with a diverse range of quality reading materials. (The Chinese Tintin has sold 11.6 million copies since its 2001 launch.)
To further improve his publishing program and better understand the overseas markets, Li has also engaged Patricia Aldana (current president of the IBBY Foundation) as an international consultant, and invited Maria Jesus Gil (president of the Hans Christian Andersen Award jury) to Beijing for talks with CCPPG editors. “By learning from the best, I hope to find a sustainable business model for both CCPPG and the Wonderland—not just for the next five years, but for the next decade and beyond.”