Moving with the times, says Bai Bing, editor-in-chief of Jieli Publishing House, is critical in the Chinese children’s book industry. “In sales, marketing, and distribution activities, for instance, one must take advantage of new and emerging platforms and be innovative. Great content is no longer sufficient in this competitive marketplace; it must be combined with a multipronged marketing strategy to maximize its impact.”
Peng Yi’s I Fight Off Nightmare Goblins with 32 Farts was one such title that has benefited from a successful marketing strategy last year, in which more than 60,000 copies were sold. A week prior to the book launch, the humorous and imaginative picture book was made available for sale from the e-commerce company YourBay Growth Club; 20,000 copies were sold. The audio version, available from the YourBay picture book reading club for one week, was downloaded more than 130,000 times.
“Current events and trends will naturally have an impact on the publishing industry,” Bai says. “The coronavirus outbreak is certain to spark an interest in books dealing with human-nature relationships, insects, and animals, as well as those on health knowledge, personal hygiene, and life-awareness education. Parents and educators are definitely going to ask for such titles for their children. This will also push for more pop science titles in these areas, especially for original content that will cover the virus outbreak and its impact on the Chinese society.”
The focus on realism continues, says Bai, whose team is searching for authors and content that depict the current lives of Chinese people and their children. “The demand for realistic children’s literature remains huge, and one can easily discern that from longtime sellers such as Cao Wenxuan’s Grass House. In recent months, we have had considerable success in this segment with Wang Luqi’s Give Me a Sun, about children left behind in rural areas while their parents work and live in the big cities, and Zheng Chunhua’s A Sister and Two Little Brothers, about divorce, two-parent households, and half-siblings. We continue to look into the life of today’s children to find different perspectives and issues that we can address through our publishing program.”
On the other end of the spectrum, with fantasy titles, Jieli has produced several bestsellers, including Leon Image’s Monster Master and Cao Wenxuan’s The King Book. “The fantasy genre has been growing steadily in China, especially after Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem won the 73rd Hugo Award, making it the first Chinese—as well as the first Asian—novel to do so,” Bai says. “Children as a rule have an immense capacity for imagination, and this ensures the longevity and popularity of this genre.” Jieli will publish three original fantasy titles this year: Ma Sanzao’s Little Lotus Lantern Book series, Gerelchimeg Blackcrane’s Wolf Cub Fenrir and I, and Bao Lin’s Dragon Boys Exam Team series. (See “Reimagining Fantasy Titles,” p. 24.)
Works in translation are no less important. Jieli has worked with Usborne for three years now and published 27 series (around 200 titles), mostly in science encyclopedia, puzzles/games, and preschool categories. The four-title Usborne Sound Book series, for instance, has sold more than 180,000 copies. “The combination of great content, colorful illustrations, and superb sound quality works very well for this market, and parents are looking for more of such impactful titles,” Bai says. “We will translate more pop science, sound books, and game books from Usborne. For sound books, we are also looking at expanding the offerings with adaptations that cover different types, including touch-and-feel, bilingual, and classical music titles.”
Close collaboration with Usborne at different levels has seen the team making use of new social media channels to enhance product branding and market penetration. Aside from holding about 100 group purchases online, there have been live broadcasts involving the Usborne team (and viewed by 500,000) and more than 10 product interviews. “There is no better way to disseminate the words about the Usborne name, products, and branding than through social media in China,” says Bai, whose team also published more than 40 titles from Lonely Planet Kids and is set to launch several titles, including 101 Small Ways to Change the World, Animal Atlas, and Wild Things.
Bai says partnering with major overseas brands has been one important direction for Jieli, while he continues to research, create, publish, and market original titles. “We publish for children with the hopes that our books will help them to be happy, healthy, imaginative, and successful, and that they will grow up to be good and caring citizens of China—and of the world.”