There are several high-profile joint ventures (JVs) in Chinese children’s books publishing. The earliest was Children’s Fun Publishing, a collaboration between Posts & Telecommunications Press and Egmont Group initiated in 1994. Next came Hachette-Phoenix, which was cofounded by Hachette Group and Phoenix Publishing Group in 2010. This was followed by Macmillan Century, set up by Macmillan Group and 21st Century Publishing House in June 2011. And last November, Bayard Bridge, a JV between Bayard Group and Trustbridge, was established.
Huang Xiaoyan, founder and publisher of Everafter Books (a Trustbridge company; see p. 18) was involved in the last three of these ventures. For Huang, the uniqueness of the Chinese book industry is an important factor that overseas publishers (and JV partners) must study. “The Chinese children’s book industry is maturing, and so are the rules of the industry,” Huang says. “But with the government controlling the issuance of ISBN numbers, private companies have to work with state-owned entities to publish their titles. The functions of a Chinese JV under such circumstances is therefore different from those in other countries.”
Having first-option access to titles from overseas counterparts for translation into Chinese is one major advantage of a JV. “When I was with HarperCollins China in 2008, we sold the English language rights of four of Yang Hongying’s Mo’s Mischief series to HarperCollins’s U.K. and U.S. subsidiaries,” Huang says. “But such a rights deal is rare for a JV. Rights sales remain very much a one-way street into China.”
Cultural differences can pose a major stumbling block in a JV formation. “The cultural differences combined with China’s unique book industry model can be daunting,” says Huang, who, having lived in Canada for six years, is experienced at negotiating cultural differences with international partners.
But once a mutual understanding is reached, there are great benefits to international JVs. “Take Bayard Bridge as an example: my French editor and I jointly select titles because we know the market well and we know what works,” says Huang. “In this way, Bayard contributes their best titles and Everafter Books provides the essential market knowledge and expertise. It is a win-win for both parties.”
Asked for advice on forming a JV in China, Huang says, “First, do as much research on the Chinese book market as possible, and remember that this is a very unique market with heavy governmental influences.” Next, she suggests finding a good partner that speaks the “same language.” “By that, I mean sharing the same understanding of business methods and ethics,” Huang says. “And lastly, curtail any unrealistic expectations: you really need to give a JV time to grow.”