The China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) successfully completed its three-day run on December 4 at the West Bund Art Center. The event, held for the ninth time, was originally scheduled for November 19, 2021, at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center. But the rash of outbreaks and lockdowns amid strict Covid-19 measures saw the event moved, first, to March of this year, then to July, and finally to December at the new venue. Co-organized by Ronbo BolognaFiere Shanghai, CCBF remains the only book fair in Asia Pacific dedicated to books and content for children.
Exhibitors were mostly local publishing houses with overseas companies either participating online or presenting their titles through their Chinese offices or collective pavilions. More than 30,000 new children’s books, of which one-third came from overseas, were showcased at the Art Center, a repurposed aircraft factory located on the northern bank of the Huangpu River. Online visitors can still browse the books and meet exhibitors through the CCBF business-matching platform until December 9.
Some 11,394 visitors attended the fair while its live-streamed events on various platforms and apps, including Xiaohongsu, WeChat and TikTok (or Douyin as it is known in China), have attracted six million views thus far. About 70 online and offline professional programs were held concurrently with the exhibition. These included a major reading event, “Children’s Books Around China: Reading for Fun,” which took place at more than 20 locations—at schools, bookstores, libraries, and art museums, for instance—in several Chinese cities to instill the love of reading among children.
CCBF also offered a panel hosted by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, winner of the 2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and a book launch of the Chinese edition of Nick & Vera by Peter Sís, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award in 2012. An exhibition called “Books and Seeds” highlighted more than 200 children’s titles about the relationship between humans and nature to promote ecological awareness among the young.
Ronbo BolognaFiere Shanghai reported that this year’s Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition received a total of 2,426 entries from 82 countries. The grand award for China and International categories went to Yu Chongjing (A Mei’s Cake Shop) and sisters Anna and Varvara Kendel (My Childhood in Siberia series), respectively. As for the first Golden Pinwheel Astra Award for picture book writing, it went to Ukrainian author-illustrator Yuliya Gwilym.
As usual, OpenBook, a Beijing-based clearinghouse for publishing statistics, held a seminar to share new industry information with fair attendees. In the first nine months of 2022, the children’s book segment, which accounted for more than a quarter of China’s total retail book market, recorded a decline of more than 7% compared to the same period a year earlier. In 2020 and 2021, the segment showed the tiniest of expansion, at 1.96% and 1.65%, respectively. This is indeed a far cry from the double-digit expansion that the segment had in, say, 2018 (at 13.7%) or 2019 (18.5%). Still, it is a massive market of 370 million children under the age of 18 with an additional 17.5 million babies born annually—and this market potential is the reason for the existence of nearly 600 children’s book publishers in town.
The OpenBook session also revealed an interesting detail about the dominance—and rising importance—of the short-video e-commerce channel in the marketing and distribution of children’s books. In the first 10 months of 2022, this channel accounted for 46.67% of the total sales of children’s books in China. Platform-based e-commerce contributed 21.56% while brick-and-mortar stores only brought in 12.95% of the total sales. Genre-wise, popular science has overtaken fiction as the #1 category.
Going online is also the way to go about conducting business during this pandemic era. For Jackie Huang, chief representative of Andrew Nurnberg Associates in Beijing, using social media and online communications to reach editors is easy, fast, and effective. “We have organized many online presentations to prospective editors to promote and sell titles,” said Huang, whose team did not make it to the CCBF this time. “We also use TikTok, Xiaohongshu, Weibo, and WeChat apps to promote titles that we have licensed to Chinese publishers as a way of lending our support to their marketing campaigns.”
For Nosy Crow’s senior rights manager Lena Petzke, her fluent Mandarin means that communicating with Chinese publishers via email or connecting on WeChat is a breeze. “Furthermore, we have already formed close relationships with these publishers at the various Chinese book fairs that we attended prior to the pandemic,” said Petzke, who holds virtual meetings to keep everybody updated on upcoming titles. “Of course, we also have help from our rights agents, but direct communication is crucial in maintaining these close relationships. So we hope to be able to travel to China soon and meet with our publisher friends in-person.”
When it comes to what sells in China, Petzke finds that “nonfiction titles and picture books by big-name illustrators and authors remain in high demand. But big series seem to be a bit harder to sell in large volumes. So smaller series are now more in demand.” She recently sold Christopher Edge’s Escape Room, Clare Helen Welsh’s All the Animals Were Sleeping, and Britta Teckentrup and Susannah Shane’s When I Became Your Grandad and When I Became Your Granny to Chinese publishers.
Huang finds that translated classic children’s literature (especially those in the public domain), picture books, and knowledge-based titles for children ages seven to 12 are selling well in the Chinese market. She and her team have recently sold Christopher Denise’s Knight Owl, Astrid Sheckels’s Hector Fox series, and Ben Garrod’s Extinct: The Story of Life on Earth series. “We also sold Hana Tooke’s The Unadoptables to China Children’s Press & Publication Group. At the same time, we have licensed more titles from Chen Jiatong’s White Fox series and the first two titles of his other series, Dream Maker, to Loewe Verlag; both series are from Jieli Publishing,” said Huang, who is looking forward to a more relaxed Covid-19 policy in the coming months. “This will mean more offline publicity events for Chinese publishers, which will bring in more sales of their titles, and which will, in turn, create more demands for licensing of new titles for the market. All of this will be great for the whole Chinese book market and publishing industry.”