This 27-year-old publisher (“a veritable young man in the industry,” says editor-in-chief Bai Bing) is less concerned with generating more new titles than publishing quality content for children. And of the books that Bai has chosen to translate over the years, many have landed on the bestseller list, including Goosebumps (with sales of 10.8 million copies and counting), My First Discovery (7.6 million), I Spy (6.2 million), Mission Survival (5.3 million), and Twilight (4.3 million).
Bear Grylls’s Mission Survival series, which started in 2014, was lauded nationwide for addressing safety education, a subject that was conspicuously missing from the curriculum. Attuned to societal and educational needs, Jieli capitalized on the series’ success by collaborating with a local safety education specialist to provide talks to more than 30,000 students and teachers in over 10 provinces across China. A dedicated portal and social media account further provide short stories and assessments on the topic. Not surprisingly, 75 new titles from Grylls are already in the works.
“Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking drive our publishing program,” adds Bai, whose team strives to make translations even better—in design and presentation—than the originals. For Gallimard’s My First Discovery series, Jieli eschewed saddle-stitching and traditional covers, opting for thread stitching and rounded corners to make the titles user-friendly and safer for young kids. The company also published a preschool activities guidebook with perspectives from eminent educational specialists to help kindergarten teachers and parents to better use the series (and similar titles) in educating children. “We work on turning each series into a brand of its own, and extending that brand—together with its sales potential and longevity—to include newly created products which the original authors may not think of,” Bai says.
Sales-wise, the above bestsellers pale in comparison with Jieli’s #1 original, Yang Hongying’s Mo’s Mischief series, which has sold more than 30 million copies. “Mo’s Mischief entered the market in 2003, at a time when the Chinese book world was enthralled by Harry Potter,” Bai says. “It was a turning point for the hitherto lackadaisical children’s book segment, marking the start of what many refer to as the ‘golden age of children’s books in China.’ ” Bai, author of many titles including the picture book Bird in the Cloud, is highly aware of the need for strong and cohesive author-publisher relationships. This is clearly seen from his decision to dedicate editorial and marketing staff to each Jieli author and title to ensure successful branding and market penetration.
“This is about promoting content creators, and expanding their influence—beyond their publications—to captivate the reading public. It seeks to achieve top-of-the-mind awareness when parents, teachers, or children are selecting or picking up a book,” explains Bai. “Even though there are a lot of new Chinese authors out there, few have considerable market recognition or influence. So in most cases, we release new titles or editions by established authors while evaluating and figuring out how to effectively position new authors and their works vis-à-vis market competition and demand.”
In 2016, backlist from a catalogue of 1,200 titles accounted for nearly 70% of Jieli’s total sales. Six series sold upwards of CNY 100 million ($16 million). Overall, Jieli’s total sales grew by approximately 14% last year, hitting CNY 492 million, nearly 45% of which came from online channels.
The continuing search for new works and authors has seen Jieli recently launch the Cao Wenxuan Children’s Novel Award and the Jinbo Children’s Literature Award, respectively honoring two renowned names in Chinese publishing; both events will be held every two years. “These will energize the industry with new creative works to suit changing times, and to provide children with an even-wider reading selection,” Bai says.
In terms of marketing strategy, Bai made news in 2015 when he collaborated with Egypt-based partners to open a Jieli branch in Cairo and distribute to 22 Middle East countries. Since then, about 20 Arabic titles have been released. In January, Jieli launched an imprint to translate and publish selected titles from London-based Usborne for the Chinese market. Says Bai, “We are unwavering in our goals of producing quality titles, forming new partnerships, and making use of new media and distribution channels to go direct to the market.”