This publishing house is embarking on a major, and unique, transformation of its publishing program and editorial mind-set. For president Li Xueqian of CCPPG, current changes in the industry demand an aggressive move.
“We have slowed down our publishing program to focus on the type of content that the market really needs,” Li says. “The current demand is for titles dealing with emotions, behaviors, manners, bullying, sharing, and friendship—topics that a two-child household and any child in a modern and complex society will require. Such titles, which promote positive social and emotional skills and good values, will prepare children from an early age to cope with life’s challenges and with societal changes. Demand is also increasing for popular science, through which young children, even toddlers, can be exposed to science principles. So we are tweaking our program to focus on these topics.”
In recent years, Li has reduced the annual number of new CCPPG titles, for example, from 760 in 2016 to 731 in 2017. “In 2018, I am looking at 700 titles,” Li says. “The guiding principle is ‘quality over quantity,’ and ‘quality’ in this case refers to content that is demanded and urgently needed by the market.” Another reason fewer children’s literature titles will appear in CCPPG’s new catalogue is that the market has been deluged with such titles in recent years.
The traditional publishing mind-set needs to change, Li says. “With China’s 2020 education reform throwing the spotlight on reading for leisure and general knowledge, there will be more reading classes in schools. But one big issue looms: teachers are not equipped—or trained—to teach reading, and schools typically do not have the resources for increased reading activities. As a children’s book publisher, this presents a challenge as well as an opportunity.”
Pivoting to become a reading service provider instead of just a traditional book publisher is one answer, and this is where CCPPG’s full-fledged subsidiary, Juvenile & Children Reading Experience Wonderland, comes in. “Experiential reading services are the core products at our 5,000-sq.-meter Wonderland,” says Li, whose publishing house is known for being the Chinese home of Cipollino, Pippi Longstocking, Le petit Nicolas, and Tintin (the Tintin series alone has sold 11.6 million copies since its 2001 launch). “It is a divergent path that saw us breaking even in 2016, with reading services offered to just 43 schools. Today, more than 300 schools have subscribed to our reading services program—not bad for a project that started off as an experiment.”
Collaborating with schools to build the appropriate reading environment is one major Wonderland activity. “We go to schools and advise them on various topics, from converting hallways and corridors into appropriate reading spaces to evaluating a teacher’s ability to conduct reading classes. For the school library, we recommend stocking up to 2,000 titles, of which 200 should form the core reading list.”
Next on Li’s agenda is the creation of a full-scale reading services platform. “This will be where parents, teachers, librarians, and students can go to find the list of the books they should use or read, the accompanying kits, additional resources, guidance on teaching reading or using a specific book in the classroom, and much more.”
Li is also looking into services beyond reading. “The focus in classrooms has always been on reading and writing. The other communication skills—specifically, listening and speaking—are underdeveloped, and so we are seeing new graduates failing in their job interviews because they cannot express themselves eloquently or comprehend the questions asked adequately. This is exactly the shortfall that the latest education reform is trying to address,” Li says. “Our team is now working on identifying and assessing the right teachers to create high-quality materials on listening and speaking that can prepare students for entry into the workplace.” (Four-skills courses are not common in Chinese language learning, unlike for English language learning.)
Given CCPPG’s emphasis on reading and listening services, audiobooks are naturally the next focus. “I am looking not just at audiobooks but at different content formats and delivery platforms that a student or a reader may need, inside and outside the classroom,” Li says. “As I mentioned earlier, a publisher needs to change to meet market demands. Standing still is not an option. Anticipating emerging demands and transforming quickly to meet market changes is essential to a company’s longevity and prosperity.”