Following another well-attended China Children’s Book Fair in Shanghai last week (November 18–20), it is our pleasure to offer you this postshow report. Herein, we’ll provide details of the fair from our stand, an overview of the children’s book market in China, our plans to continue representing titles at international book fairs, and guidance to help you capitalize on your participation in this year’s China Children’s Book Fair. Hopefully, this narrative will do justice to the incredible energy coming from the children’s book marketplace in China.
The Fair and Its History
The China Children’s Book Fair has now reached four years of age in this dynamic, tidy, and architecturally stunning city—truly one of the world’s must-see places. Unlike Beijing, Shanghai is fairly straightforward for westerners to navigate: from the cleanliness of the taxis and subway cars to the English found on street signs and shops to the astounding number of not-terribly-expensive, quality Chinese, European, and American restaurants. From hotels in the centrally located Bund and Pudong areas (near the book fair), the average cab ride to most parts of the city is no longer than twenty minutes and in the $5 range. The subway system is vast and laughably inexpensive.
A certain commendable level of English is spoken in most markets, retail shops, and restaurants frequented by Western travelers, and hotel concierges generally speak the language extremely well. Yes, smog is omnipresent and concerning, but the government takes the problem very seriously and, based on Chinese newspaper reports, CO2 emissions seem to be trending downward due to control measures. In all, Shanghai is great fun to visit and the China Children’s Book Fair has become one of our favorite book events of the year.
As host to the 2016 CCBF, the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Center lived up to its lengthy name with digital- and book-related conference events, a new Digital Discovery Zone touting augmented reality and virtual reality innovations, and a record 300-plus trade professional exhibitors including a growing number of pavilions hosted by countries/regions like the UK, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and South Korea.
The show featured two days devoted to book-trade professionals, with a final day open to both professionals and the public. Product categories ranged from printed books for children and young adults to audiobooks, CD/DVDs, e-books, painting and coloring books, educational software, films and music, animation and cartoons, as well as some toys and games. The CCBF is held in cooperation with China’s official publishing authorities (General Administration of the Press and Publications, GAPP).
As you may be aware, there is an August book-trade event held in Beijing that includes a focus on adult books and educational titles. CCBF is an effort to spotlight children’s books in the Asian marketplace, and an impressive number of publishing trade professionals ventured to Shanghai this year from all over China and Asia. Improved distribution and digital marketing initiatives have increased book sales in areas outside of China’s typical business centers of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing—all of which serves to heighten demand for books published in Chinese and English. China’s recently instituted two-child policy has also affected the children’s book market.
Currently, China boasts 370 million kids under the age of 18, with English widely taught in schools across the vast country. Income levels amongst the middle class are stable and sales of children’s books increased 10 percent in 2015. Eighty percent of the books sold in China come from content produced abroad. Indeed, prospects for a healthy book market seem positive for years to come. Currently, China is the world’s second-largest market for children’s books, according to Nielsen Books.
The Children’s Books USA Stand
As twenty-two-year veterans of international book fairs in England, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the USA and China, we are suckers for book joy, the look of irrepressible delight you see on the faces of those lucky people who simply love to be in the company of books, and China definitely produces more than her share. Western images, famous movie and children’s book characters, and even the simple matter of English words on book covers drew visitors inside the Children’s Book USA stand as if we were handing out 100 RMB banknotes.
Over the course of three days, literally hundreds of Chinese attendees slowly worked their way over the CBUSA shelves, pointing at individual letters on covers, sounding out English pronunciations with their lips, most of them unable to contain feelings of open-mouthed wonderment. For many, it’s not only English as a second language, it’s English as a special fascination. Just a few weeks off the massive, ultra-professional Frankfurt Book Fair, CCBF is a quick cure for book fatigue.
Sophisticated, artful children’s picture books for leisure and basic education were the primary lead-generators in our stand, and those books with superb artwork also earned the most attention and touches from passersby—even if the subject matter didn’t eventually translate into rights leads. Occasionally, books with a profound, necessary message—but weak art—earned attention, but the fact is, great art is crucial to a book’s success in the foreign rights marketplace, regardless of the country.
As it relates to content, common themes like morals, common courtesy, bullying, sharing, friendship, and learning disabilities ranked high on the demand list. Most every inquiry asked whether individual books were part of a series and many wanted more info on the award seals featured on some of the front covers. If there’s a takeaway from this paragraph, children’s book publishers need to prioritize art and design as much as writing and content.
Your titles were a part of the Children’s Books USA (CBUSA) stand, a subsidiary of Foreword Magazine, Inc. CBUSA is a thirty-one-year-old concierge service for larger children’s book publishers at the world’s premier book fair for children, the Bologna Children’s Book Fair held every spring in Italy. This means we host a number of more established independent and larger children’s book publishers at our stand, taking care of the details like shipping, setup, and working with the organizers to make attending as easy as showing up and getting to work immediately. This year, we also hosted a booth for CBUSA in Hall 6.1, the international children’s book hall, at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, as well as this Shanghai event.
As you might imagine, Children’s Books USA has incredible brand recognition in any language, and particularly at the China Children’s Book Fair where we were the primary real estate presence from the United States (54 square meters). As we did last year, we contracted with an extremely talented local designer to create an eye-popping area for agents and publishers to browse with three tables for meetings and a front-of-stand counter to handle inquiries. Our stand was so attractively designed, dozens of attendees posed for pictures in front and on all sides.
This year, two hugely-respected US publishers—Sourcebooks and Highlights Books for Children—joined us in the CBUSA stand and, with several shelves of acclaimed books apiece, certainly added to our booth’s foot traffic. Dominique Raccah, CEO and publisher at Sourcebooks, gregariously hosted twenty-plus meetings with Asian agents and publishers in the booth, in addition to a standing-room-only speaking gig on augmented reality at one of the CCBF’s official events.
In years past, most Chinese book-rights deals were made through a small handful of Chinese agencies. Two of the largest agencies, Big Apple Agency and Bardon Agency, still handle rights for the majority of not only large US publishers but also many European publishing houses, and focus mainly on selling the rights of bestsellers. Ten years ago, the chances for independent presses and self-published authors to land a significant deal were slim. The situation has changed in recent years with several smaller agencies succeeding in a booming market. The Shanghai fair also facilitates a matchmaking opportunity for Chinese agents and publishers to book meetings directly with incoming international exhibitors.
There were well over 150 Chinese companies exhibiting and representatives of some of the largest and finest publishing houses paced the show floor along with thousands more trade visitors (publishers, editors, distributors, designers, movie companies looking for animation projects, booksellers, librarians, printers, you name it). To us at the CBUSA stand, it feels like every single CCBF attendee stopped by our booth. In addition, we had visits from European and Asian agents and publishers. European publishers were already represented at several combined stands, the UK had a strong presence with 23 stands in their pavilion. Casual conversations with other Western exhibitors and publishers confirmed that the Shanghai fair is very busy, exciting, and profitable. Other media, both Chinese and foreign, report that the fair is enjoyed by exhibitors and attendees alike.
We are just beginning to collate our list of leads and will begin contacting individual publishers with specific requests for review copies from interested visiting agents. This list has been through a vetting process that is a step further than we are usually able to provide post show. If your titles have not yet received a specific request, be patient; it is our experience that the global publishing community does not move as quickly as most Americans would like. We also shared our ecatalog (with your title information included), and handed out copies of Foreword Reviews. (Make sure your book information is up to date on your Foreword Reviews online account.) Historically, scores of publishers are contacted after the fact through the catalog and magazines we distribute.
It is still abundantly clear that China is on an amazing road to growth, and when you think about the sheer number of people (hundreds of millions) anticipated to become English readers in the next decade, you can’t help but be enthusiastic about the publishing opportunities. From our experience, the driving force behind publishing in Asia continues to be English as a Second Language (primarily through children’s picture books), followed by education, business, leadership, and self-help titles. In addition, new doors are opening for fiction on portable devices, also contributing to ESL efforts.
For children’s picture books in particular, as well as young adult fiction and nonfiction titles, we strongly believe CCBF will increasingly assert its role as the Asian center for the exchange of sub rights to books. For independent presses in particular, it is an excellent venue to begin a rights program if you don’t have one in place. Next year, we will be exhibiting again in Shanghai with premium space already reserved through CBUSA. Independent publishers with 8+ books are encouraged to contact CBUSA directly to reserve meeting space and a panel of shelves, in case you may be interested in attending this amazing show personally. Of course, we will always be able to help smaller publishers should they need assistance with a smaller number of titles through our Foreword Independent Press Collective within CBUSA.
Matt Sutherland is Editor In Chief at Foreword Reviews. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.