The China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF), running from November 9 to 11, rang in its sixth outing with BolognaFiere as the co-organizer for the first time. With Bologna on board, the whole exhibition, which includes several new lounges such as the BOP-Bologna Prize Lounge, the Strega Prize Lounge, and the New Literary Agents Center, were moved one floor up. In addition, a varied line-up of conference programs had been added to enrich what is widely acknowledged as the biggest event dedicated to children’s content in Asia.
The conference's first program, hosted by OpenBook, a clearinghouse for publishing statistics in China, provided a quick snapshot of the country’s children’s book market during the first nine months of 2018. According to Yang Lei, OpenBook’s deputy general manager, the children’s segment had expanded by 14.2% and now accounts for 25.0% of China’s total retail book market which is estimated to be $10.2 billion. While publication of new titles has dropped 2.8%, there are currently around 15,000 children’s titles in circulation. Much of the gain in market share is attributed to the 5% to 10% increase in book prices, especially for new titles.
From a channel perspective, sales through online channels (including social media-based platforms) continue to grow and now represent 27.8% of the total book sales. The sales trend for brick-and-mortar outlets continued to head down—as it has been in the past five years or so—with sales dropping 12.5% in the nine month period.
The double-digit expansion of China’s children’s book segment is the biggest draw for CCBF exhibitors, both domestic and overseas. While translated titles—such as E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi’s Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window, and Les P’tites Poules series—top the bestseller charts, some exhibitors are seeing a growing demand for imports of original English editions. On the first day of the fair, foreign rights and sales manager Lara Clift at Leicester, U.K.-based Sweet Cherry Publishing, for instance, received far more inquiries about potential distribution of original editions within China (for online-based sales platforms) than those for rights. This demand, which has become clearer in recent years, is driven largely by parents wanting their children to learn English (at native speaker proficiency) at a young age.
For first-timer Maria L. Kjoller of Minneapolis-based Lerner Publishing, this CCBF provided the chance to visit and further understand her biggest market. “We have sold at least 500 titles through our sub-agent CA-Link International since 2008,” said Kjoller, the director of rights, special sales, and international distribution. At this fair, she is promoting several humor-based titles, including Brian P. Cleary’s Coding is Categorical series, Sara Levine’s Flower Talk, and David Zeltser’s The Universe Ate My Homework. Asked about the challenge in translating humor, she said: “The humor is basic enough that I don’t see any problem in making it work in China.”
And while new categories such as book-plus and augmented reality-based titles are getting more popular, titles with educational values sell best in China. At the U.K. Pavilion, visitors swarmed the North Parade Publishing booth to check out its new STEM series (Wonders of Learning) and various educational titles for children. Before the day was over,North Parade director Peter Hicks was considering a much bigger booth space for his next CCBF. Further down the aisle, international sales manager David Meggs of Award Publication had already wrapped up a deal with Beijing Time Publishing for the 10-book How It Works nonfiction series during his visit to Beijing ahead of CCBF.
What is clear from the opening of the show is that China remains a vibrant market hungry for new content, and that CCBF is establishing itself as the go-to regional event for children’s book publishers eager to find potential partners and leverage sales opportunities—for both rights and direct imports—in the massive market.