The three-day China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) kicked off on November 17 with a celebratory cruise gala dinner to mark its 10th anniversary.
At this first full in-person event since 2019, the mood was one of anticipation. Some exhibitors, North Parade Publishing and Award Publications from the U.K. Pavilion, for instance, had not been back for at least three years and are looking forward to reconnecting with Chinese publishers and making new deals. As for Belgium-based Clavis and London-based Nosy Crow, who exhibited in past pandemic-era hybrid events with the help of local staff, early packed booths inspired optimism.
But the Chinese children’s book market is still struggling. Gone are the days of double-digit growth. However, signs are pointing to a reviving market with slight shifts in the distribution channels, which have long favored e-commerce and online channels.
According to Yang Lei, executive v-p at OpenBook, a clearinghouse for publishing statistics in China, the children’s book segment accounted for 26.9% of the country’s total retail book market in the January-October 2023 period while recording a sales decline of 5.4%. In comparison, in 2022, the Chinese children’s book segment held 28.61% of the total market despite a 10.41% decline. The latest figures from OpenBook also recorded a 2.2% and 1% sales increase in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with a market share holding steady at around 28%.
The short-video e-commerce channel (through TikTok, Xiaohongshu, Weibo, and WeChat apps, for instance) remains popular in the marketing and distribution of children’s books, accounting for 40.3% of the total sales in the first 10 months of 2023. However, this figure is lower than the 2022 peak of 56.14%. In contrast, sales of children’s books via bricks-and-mortar outlets, which had been trending down for the past decade, are growing and contributed 14.9% to the overall sales in the January-October 2023 period.
Genre-wise, pop-science reigns—as it has for the past three years—followed by children’s literature titles and picture books. Short-video e-commerce and platform-based channels are selling more pop-science books while bookstores seem to be better at pushing children’s literature titles.
According to the snapshot provided by OpenBook, the number of new children’s titles entering the Chinese market is around 20,000 for the first 10 months of the year. Translations remain high, accounting for 40% of the new titles, with the majority coming from the U.K. and the U.S.
Sci-fi/fantasy and detective series continue to sell well, as well as STEAM and STEM titles. As for what is trending, signs point to manga-style nonfiction titles as well as self-help books for young adults.
With 558 children’s publishers in the Chinese market vying for higher sales and hoping to pick the next bestsellers, the competition to be the biggest company is stiff. According to OpenBook, the top three slots go to Citic Press Group, 21st Century Publishing Group, and Changjiang Children’s Publishing Group.
For new and seasoned overseas exhibitors at CCBF, the overall Chinese book market, valued at CNY 87.1 billion (or approximately, $12.1 billion), is a big attraction. The fact that the children’s book segment has remained its biggest market segment despite the doldrums adds to the appeal of the fair. And for that reason, CCBF, which is the biggest event dedicated to children’s books and content in Asia Pacific, continues to draw exhibitors hoping to penetrate the Chinese market.