By the third day of the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which ended its run on August 25, the international hall was noticeably not as busy nor its exhibitors as frenetic. While the energy of the first two days of crowded booths and back-to-back meetings had tapered off, exhibitor enthusiasm over BIBF and the expanding Chinese book market remained high.
First-time exhibitors were packing up to head home and looking forward to solidifying visitor interests into signed deals. For seasoned exhibitors, the Chinese market’s capacity in absorbing new titles and its ability to grow remains impressive.
The latter is the case with Human Kinetics. “Our first BIBF was 13 years ago and we have sold more than 300 titles to China, which is now our #1 rights market,” said international development director Barry Johnson, adding that “the pace picked up significantly in the last five years, with nearly 200 titles sold during this period.” The continuing growth and interest in sports and fitness in China has been a boon to the company. “It is interesting for us to see the sales of the translated first edition of Kristian Berg’s Prescriptive Stretching outselling everywhere else, including the original edition back in the U.S," Johnson said. "So you can definitely bet that we will continue to exhibit at BIBF and expand our market here.”
For Berrett-Koehler Publishers, a major deal signed soon after the previous fair had basically guaranteed its second BIBF outing. “The number of requests and inquiries that I have continuously received from Chinese publishers clearly indicate a healthy demand for management and self-help books in this market,” said subsidiary rights senior manager Catherine Lengronne, who inked the deal for Henry Mintzberg’s Bedtime Stories for Manager with Beijing Huazhang Graphics & Information. “It was good to come back again to continue meeting and chatting with Chinese publishers and further understanding their content needs.”
This BIBF saw a considerable number of first-time overseas exhibitors, including from the U.K. and U.S., looking to test the market with unique products, interesting ideas, and novel concepts. And no wonder: the Chinese book market is booming, propelled by a fast-growing middle class, which is expected to cover 600 million people by 2020. Armed with a higher disposable income, this middle-class has a propensity to spend more and they are better traveled and more sophisticated than earlier generations. This lends to a growing demand for more varied reading materials with international perspectives and unique themes as well as higher-priced books.
Over at London-based Impress, for instance, visitors were enamored with two fine art and photography titles by photographer Adrian Bradshaw: The Door Opened: 1980s China and Chinachrome. “There were limited number of photographs from that time period in China, and these two books, which showcased the best of them, are unique to this market segment,” said company founder and creative director Phil Cleaver. As a graphic designer, author, and a professor in the creative industries at the Middlesex University, Cleaver’s understanding of the Chinese culture and language is clearly reflected in his publications, and “this plays well with my audience here at BIBF, and the overall reception to our list is one of enthusiasm and high interest.”
For her first BIBF, international account manager Hattie Castelberg of London-based Faber and Faber brought along a “boutique list” that served as an introduction to the many brands under the company. “Our most recognized title in China is Ichiro Kishimi’s The Courage to be Disliked, which is a major bestseller here and at this fair," said Castelberg.
Another Londoner and BIBF first-timer was Harry Gwinner, COO of Nobrow Press. He brought nonfiction titles such as AJ Dungo’s In Waves and Jon McNaught’s Kingdom, which are unlike the usual crop of Japanese manga or Korean manhwa that remain very popular in China. “The reaction to our products—which are more art books than graphic novels—by international artists has been positive. Chinese publishers seem more receptive to illustration-based books instead of text-based fiction,” said Gwinner.
Having booth visitors asking “where have you been?” was music (pun intended) to president and CEO Scott Kinsey of Kindermusik, the largest player in early childhood music education in the U.S. “We bring our proven expertise of being in this field for more than 40 years and in more than 60 countries. Clearly, from the unexpected volume of serious interest we have seen, Kindermusik fulfills an unmet need in China. The opportunities in this vast market are substantial.” Kinsey was in town with Brian Healy, managing partner at Education Market Experts, who is helping him to navigate the new market and explore licensing opportunities that target schools, children, and parents.
The next BIBF will be held around the same time in August 2020.