As the professional segment of the 30th Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) began to wind down on June 21, most overseas exhibitors were packing up to go home as local companies began prepping their stands to sell books to the public, who will be at the China National Convention Center over the weekend as this year's fair completes its five-day run.

For Human Kinetics international sales director Barry Johnson, this BIBF visit provided a great opportunity to rekindle relationships with clients and obtain a better sense of the market. “I haven’t been back since 2019, and having 20 meetings within the first two days goes beyond my expectation,” said Johnson, adding that he received a lot of inquiries about books on mental health, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. China accounts for nearly 40% of Human Kinetics’ rights sales, and many English-language titles have have done better in China than anywhere else, Johnson said. One of Johnson’s biggest partners in China is Posts & Telecom Press, which he said has bought well over 300 Human Kinetics titles in the past 15 years.

Titles on medicine and health, psychology, and self-help are doing well in China, said Camille Morard, international rights manager at the U.K. Marco Rodino Agency. “The Chinese book market has been rather slow for us since the pandemic, and last year was a particularly tough one. However, given the amount of appointments that I have at this fair, this year is definitely looking up,” said Morard, who has sold quite a number of Mayo Clinic Press titles to Chinese publishers. “Suzy Reading’s latest title, Self-Care for Winter, received a lot of attention, as did Edward Graham’s The Nature of Clouds, she noted, adding: “I see strong interest in titles on coffee, whiskey, and wine during this fair.”

Over at rights agency 123 Media, which is based in Bristol, U.K., one author stood out among the 60 titles at the booth: Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May. “His stereoscopic-based titles such as Bennu 3D, Cosmic Clouds, and Queen in 3D attracted many visitors. Understandably, astronomy is a popular subject in China right, now given its ongoing Lunar Exploration Program,” said Cristina Galimberti, who is a first-time BIBF visitor despite having worked with Chinese publishers for about 20 years. “Our agency started out by selling books on practical drawing. Then the trend moved on to popular science, and now, I’m seeing self-help and social and emotional learning titles gaining popularity. It is just so much fun being here, chatting with local publishers and editors, learning more about the market, and visiting bookstores.”

For Highlights, however, the Chinese book market has not been welcoming in recent years. The July 2021 crackdown in China on after-school tutoring services, an industry once valued at well over $100 billion, has caused a slump in the demand for learning materials, especially those for English-language learning.

“But this has given us the opportunity to revise our business strategy and to look beyond exports and rights sales,” said Highlights director of global content Sarah Hooks. “We are looking at leveraging the Highlights brand, which has always been recognized in China for quality content, as well as in repurposing and tailoring our content to better fit the Chinese market demand. I have been talking to potential partners at this fair on, say, franchising and preschool curriculum, and the possibilities are both exciting and huge.”

As for multinational educational and scholarly publishers—Cambridge University Press, Cengage, Elsevier, Oxford University Press, Pearson, Sage, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley—their big booths at BIBF showed their commitment to the Chinese market. Over the years, the Chinese academic market segment has expanded significantly, given the vast numbers of universities (around 2,630), research institutes (230-plus), and medical centers (31,000) in the country. In 2023, the number of Chinese students enrolled in tertiary education reached around 47.6 million, compared to just 3.8 million in 1990.

Overall though, the sales picture remains mixed. According to OpenBook, the Chinese retail book market grew 4.7% in 2023—a welcome increase after a decline in 2022. The first five months of 2024, however, had a 8% decline compared to the same period a year ago.

The number of publications in circulation in the country went up 1.5% last year, hitting 2.37 million. As for new titles, more than 180,000 were published in 2023, which was 7.3% more than the previous year. From a channel perspective, bricks-and-mortar stores accounted for about 12% of the total sales, while sales from e-commerce platforms represented a huge chunk of well over 40%. Short-video channels took up 26%.

The 2025 BIBF is scheduled to run from June 18–22, 2025, at the same venue.