The Beijing International Book Fair is expected to welcome more than 2,600 exhibitors (of which 60% or around 1,600 come from overseas) and more than 300,000 attendees for its five-day run, which began August 21. The show has grown dramatically in the last decade; 10 years ago there were only 1,841 exhibitors and 200,000 visitors.
Romania is the guest of honor, and many publishers, including those from Portugal and Kazakhstan, are making their first appearance at the show. A large portion of the exhibition space is allocated for children’s books, and in the International Zone, the Japan and Korea pavilions dominate the exhibition floor with their presence, seemingly heedless of the tense relations—political and now, trade—between the two countries, and also between them and China. It is business as usual in the book industry.
As usual, on the eve of the fair, there was the annual International Publishing Forum, which was organized by China National Publications Import & Export (Group) Corporation. Nine speakers talked about new technologies, understanding, and methodologies in publishing and content selling. Topics ranged from 5G-enabled content and reading format (by Zhang Yong, president of China Unicom Network Technology Research Institute); artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing in driving content discoverability (Bryan Davies, v-p for product solutions at Elsevier); effective user engagement and the science of communication (Arnout Jacobs, president of Greater China at Springer Nature); and big data and new media (Shen Yang, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication).
A Children’s Publishing Forum was also held concurrently, with dialogues focused on the development of China’s children book market, edutainment products, sci-fi for children, and promoting reading to children.
Not surprisingly, given the focus on new technologies and methodologies in the Chinese publishing industry, and its booming children’s book market, there is an increased presence of EdTech at this year’s fair, with exhibitors presenting products that merge publishing, entertainment, AI, and digital technologies. Online education company VIP Kids and e-platform Jiliguala (which recently signed a deal to develop and provide English reading courses based on Disney cartoons), for instance, are some of the companies looking to reach younger and tech-savvy parents who tend to be more concerned about—and more willing to pay for—their children’s educational needs.
VIP Kids, interestingly, is Bob Books’ first digital partner in China. “They licensed our entire collection of 114 titles, and the content is now being integrated into VIP Kids’ learning curriculum,” said Seattle, WA-based Bob Books' president and COO Adam Michaels, who is participating at BIBF for the first time. “It is a good deal for us since the content is already there and we don’t have to deal with shipping and warehousing unlike with printed books. There is little overhead or costs involved to obtain a new revenue stream.” Chinese publishers are willing to pay a good price for quality content, Michaels added, pointing out that he “works with these digital players on a non-exclusive basis.”
For trade sales director Sarah Rucker of Gibbs Smith/BabyLit, the increasing number of meetings with Chinese publishers at the Bologna and Frankfurt fairs prompted her decision to participate at BIBF for the first time this year. Having sat through a dozen or so meetings pre-arranged by her agent, Rucker found that “there is a potential customer for every title—adult and children—that I have in my catalogue. This visit is really about trying to broaden our company’s international presence, and any sales or deals would bring us a nice additional income. So there is every reason to be here in Beijing for this fair.”
Talking Pen remains popular in China, said Michael Davis, managing director for Asia at Highlights for Children. “But there have been a lot more demand for digital content based on our graded readers, which has seen us developing hybrid packages that combine print books with digital content.” Having participated at the BIBF for more than a dozen years, Highlights continues to see its sales growing in the Chinese market. “There are now new opportunities for audio titles and e-books. Clearly, this market has evolved in recent years and is now driven by technological advances and new methodologies in publishing and content creation.”