Non-stop meetings and packed booths were two constants at the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which runs from August 23 to 27. Overseas publishers were both pleased by the continued growth of the Chinese book market and intrigued by the vast opportunities (and segments) that await them.
At Sourcebook’s booth, China’s growing interest in child development was (thanks in part to the country's relaxed one-child policy) could be seen in the enthusiastic response to Marianne Richmond’s Big Brother, Big Sister, and the soon-to-be-published Be Brave Little One. “One thing that is obvious to me as a first-time exhibitor is that people just want to sit down and do business at this fair. They know what sells in this market, and what exactly they want to publish,” said production director Sarah Cardillo, who was also in town to touch base and reach out to print manufacturers in China.
The Chinese book market, said Jessica Kingsley who has an eponymous London-based publishing house, has become much more sophisticated, especially when it comes to certain nonfiction categories. “Publishers are now looking for titles on autism, anxiety, and dementia, for instance, because there is now the perception to see and understand the issues and challenges related to these conditions," said Kinglsey, whose house specializes in titles on, among other subjects, autism and social work. "There is also a demand for books on understanding children’s emotional development especially with regards to dealing with peer and societal pressures.” Higher divorce rate in modern China, added Kingsley, “has resulted in more interest in books on helping children to understand, and cope with, divorce.”
Meanwhile, China’s rising middle class with higher disposable income is boosting the demand for books on lifestyle and cooking. For Denise Lie, rights director at London-based Ryland Peters & Small, her first BIBF had already shown clearly the market’s interest in interior design (“two serious enquiries on the first day”) and mind-body-spirit (“more on general titles instead of esoteric ones”). “Interestingly, our baking titles have also attracted many buyers,” said Lie, whose craft list has been selling well in China.
But tapping into the huge Chinese book market can be a matter of timing. Diamond Book Distributors’ Kuo-yu Liang, v-p of sales and marketing, was back at BIBF after a 10-year hiatus. “I have been hearing success stories from last year’s exhibitors about their sales after years of relationship-building in China, and I decided to give it another try." Liang is going to capitalize on the upcoming Shanghai ComicCon to bring more exposure to his products, which are mostly American graphic novels.
London-based ACA Publishing, on the other hand, is a rare breed of exhibitor at BIBF (and to the Chinese book market). It made history as the first foreign publishing company to be allowed to set up an office in China back in 1989 and now focuses on China-focused content in English. “There is a lot of demand for China-related titles—and this is an under-served market with plenty of potential,” said publisher Ying Mathieson, adding that winners of the Mao Dun Literary Prize (for Chinese fiction), for instance, do not get enough publicity and exposure internationally.
For some exhibitors, like Montreal-based Phidal Publishing, BIBF presents licensing opportunities. “We license characters from companies such as Disney, DreamWorks, and Nickelodeon, and we create our own character-based content," he said. “For me, BIBF is a platform to meet buyers from other countries and regions, and to explore new products and markets.”
Whatever the goal for attending BIBF, exhibitors were definitely looking forward to the next edition, which is tentatively scheduled for August 22 to 26.