As of February 2018, 12 volumes of Bear Grylls’s Mission Survival series have been published in China, with overall sales exceeding 6.8 million copies. The numbers are a surprise to many, including some at the Jieli Publishing House, though not to editor-in-chief Bai Bing.
The story begins with the rights deal with Grylls’s agent, Peters Fraser & Dunlop (PFD). Then, Jieli editors assigned the series to the “B” category, in which a title is expected to sell between 40,000 and 50,000 copies annually. Bai immediately reassigned it to “A,” which signifies minimum annual sales of 100,000 copies.
“I saw the potential and was confident that the total turnover within five years would exceed CNY 100 million,” says Bai, who has been amazed by Grylls’s stories and adventures from the get-go. “Bear’s reality show Mission Survival had developed quite a following in China when we signed on the rights, and that laid a strong foundation for the success—and subsequent branding—of the middle-grade book series.” The broadcasting of two of Grylls’s reality shows—Survivor Games in 2015 and Absolute Wild in 2017—with Chinese personalities and celebrities and shot in multiple locations in China further publicizes the brand.
But the decision to purchase and publish the series went beyond potential sales and publishing instinct. “Aside from the fact that Bear is a world-renowned adventurer with a huge fan base in China, he writes the series for his sons, and in these books, practical survival skills are woven into the twists and turns to produce captivating plots and thrilling stories,” Bai says. “Furthermore, when we first started with the series, there was a conspicuous absence of safety, life, and survival education in the school curriculum. This series is, therefore, much needed and very timely.”
Bai believes this series can help incentivize kids and young people to be strong and brave. “We are seeing children and young people behaving with such fragility in how they tackle the challenges that they will inevitably face in life. Suicides due to lost loves, failed exams, or bullying, for instance, are increasing by the day. What we have in Mission Survival is a series about survival against all odds, and it encourages everyone to be brave, to tackle life’s challenges head on, and to persevere.”
To produce a series that is more appropriate and useful for Chinese children, tweaks are made. The beginning of each volume, for instance, offers an introduction to the characters. “Content changes, if any, are done lightly, and we add chapter titles wherever relevant and helpful. We also add practical survival tips and a summary of Bear’s survival skills at the end of each volume,” says Bai, whose team has been designing the book covers since volume nine.
Support from PFD makes Jieli’s promotional and marketing efforts much easier. “The agent asked Bear to record short video clips that are timed for release with each new volume,” Bai says. “They also provide us with the latest news on Bear so that we can plan our marketing strategy in advance. So when Bear visited China in 2016, for instance, we were able to create special postcards and souvenirs for him to sign for his fans.”
Jieli, says Caroline Michel, CEO of PFD, “has been excellent in adapting and coming up with innovative ways to promote the Mission Survival series.” The short video clips of Bear speaking about the books, for instance, are posted regularly on various social media platforms and on Jieli’s official WeChat account, which has more than 10,000 followers and 12 reading-promotions groups. Jieli’s marketing team frequently works with more than 300 chat-group organizers and collaborates with key opinion leaders and popular official accounts on WeChat to discuss and review the series or a new volume.
But the marketing and promotional efforts are not limited to social media. To maintain top-of-mind awareness, the Jieli team works with brick-and-mortar bookstores to create special displays and hold lectures (featuring special gifts) during winter school vacation. Special promotions are also cohosted with major online retailers such as Dangdang and JD. The publicity team ensures that marketing and promotion of the series is made during the airing of the TV series and solicits continuous book reviews and news coverage throughout the year. “Whenever we launch a new volume, we invite security experts and directors of the reality TV show to attend,” says Bai, whose team has conducted a survival ability survey among schoolchildren; the results will announced in the middle of the year.
For the school market, for instance, Jieli invites security experts to give 50–100 lectures and demonstrate survival skills every year. For special events such as Fire Service Day, the team distributes a security card, which lists the dangers a child may encounter and how to survive, to residential areas and schools. More than 600,000 cards have been distributed so far.
Asked to assess the PFD-Jieli partnership, Michel says: “It is collaborative and exciting, and it provides a real education in the extraordinary possibilities for writers in China. I visited Jieli’s Beijing office in 2015 and have kept in very close touch with the team. Bai Bing himself keeps a very close eye on all things Bear Grylls and often comes up with new ideas for the series and for taking the publishing program forward in China.”
PFD is naturally delighted with Grylls’s success in the vast Chinese market. Michel says, “The energy and efforts that Jieli has invested into publishing this series since the very beginning have been extraordinary. Naturally, we have been approached by many Chinese publishers who want to publish Bear. But Bear works best when he has a trusted and loyal team around him, and Jieli is very much a part of that team.”