This year’s Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), the 29th edition, was the first to take place face-to-face since August 2019. The four days of conferences, deals, and meetings were held at a new venue—the China National Convention Center, which was used in the 2008 Summer Olympics—from June 15 to 18, instead of the fair's usual August run. Algeria was the country of honor.
The fair hosted more than 2,500 exhibitors, of which 60% were from overseas, and showcased over 200,000 titles. Four major conferences were scheduled during the fair. The PubTech Conference focused on innovation and AI in publishing, while the International Publishing Forum had executives such as Y.S. Chi (Elsevier), Jeremy North (Taylor & Francis), Brigitta Charlotte Van Rheinberg (Princeton University Press), and Ben Ashcroft (DeGruyter) analyze industry trends and offer insights.
Then there was the Children’s Publishing Forum, where speakers shared successful publishing and marketing experiences gained during the pandemic, and the 2023 International Publishing Enterprises High Level Conference, which was all about opportunities in STM publishing, international collaboration, and the increased use of technology across publishing.
Among the agreements signed at the fair were a three-year publishing partnership between Phoenix Publishing and Media Group with Springer Nature and a co-publishing deal between Taylor & Francis and the China Academy of Social Sciences.
Lin Liying, president of China National Publications Import and Export Corporation (CNPIEC), which is the organizer of BIBF, expressed her delight at “reconnecting with old and new friends to focus on the development of the global publishing industry.” She further pointed out that the different business segments at the fair, “truly demonstrate the connection between publishing and technology.”
The Chinese market remains huge, said Belgium-based Philippe Werck of Clavis, who spoke at the Children’s Publishing Forum. “In Europe, children’s books are about 20% of the total market. Here, it is nearly 40%. Chinese parents want to invest in their children’s education—more than ever. The bigger challenge comes from intense market competition and deep retail discounts, which severely affects publisher margins,” Werck said.
Clavis sold rights to more than 150 titles at the fair. “It’s the best result since our first appearance in the Chinese market more than a decade ago. And I like this new BIBF venue, which is very nice with a central location that makes it more accessible, too. The atmosphere was like Bologna a few months ago: everyone was so happy to meet again after three and a half years. There was great enthusiasm and desire to do business, which resulted in a very successful fair.”
Chinese authors have been great for U.K-based indie press Alain Charles Asia Publishing (ACA). Its diversification into Chinese fiction in 2017 was a timely move. “Our Sinoist Book imprint accounts for about 70% of our title output and 90% of our sales,” said marketer Daniel Li, whose company was recently granted a three-year funding program run by Arts Council England and is set to translate and publish Liu Zhenyun’s One Day Three Autumns and Chen Yan’s The Backstage Clan into English. For Li, “it’s simply fantastic to be back at BIBF and to sit across from people who are just as passionate about Chinese literature as we are.”
The overall Chinese book market, currently valued at CNY87.1 billion (or approximately, $12.1 billion), saw its largest decline in nearly a decade in 2022 due to the pandemic and lockdowns. According to OpenBook, a clearinghouse for publishing statistics in Beijing, the book market declined 11.7% year-on-year. The children’s book segment, which remains the largest category, had a nearly 5% drop in sales. Meanwhile, sales via online platforms continue to dominate over bricks-and-mortar outlets with short-video e-commerce (on TikTok, Xiaohongsju, WeChat, for instance) fast becoming the new channel for online book marketing and retail.
Next year’s BIBF will be held from June 19 to 23.