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All the world at the Shanghai fair

Cecily Liu
Updated: Nov 24,2014 9:14 AM     China Daily

China will play an increasingly important role in the global publishing market due to its great demand for Western contents.[Photo/Provided to China Daily]

China’s vibrant publishing market has attracted a surging number of foreign publishers to the country to trade rights, showcase their creative content and exchange views with their Chinese counterparts.

Such high level of interest is particularly present in the children’s book market, a fast-growing and significant segment, and more exchanges took place during the three-day second Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair that started on Nov 20.

“There is a huge demand for content, fueled by multimedia opportunities, which is pushing children’s books to the top of the best-selling book categories in China,” says Randy Wang, the fair manager.

In each of the past two years, sales of children’s books in China grew 11 percent, and in the first six months of this year, half the 100 best-selling titles were children’s books, Wang says.

As more than 90 percent of the content for children’s books in China is imported, international publishers can be assured of a continued high level of interest at the fair, he says.

Chinese publishers that purchase the rights usually do the translations and other work on the books.

The fair is the only show of its kind in the Asia-Pacific, so its growth has contributed to an eastward shift of book rights sales globally, and has helped many medium-sized and small Western publishers break into the Chinese market, he says.

“What surprised me was the opportunity last year’s show has given to medium- and small-scale publishers, which sold a lot of rights at the show.”

This is because in the past China’s import of foreign rights often took place at international book shows, so Chinese publishers that attended them often made the most well-known Western publishers their key targets.

But now that foreign publishers of all sizes attend the Shanghai fair, Chinese publishers can more easily strike deals with them, Wang says.

Nosy Crow, a British publisher, took a dozen titles to the fair last year and managed to sell all of them to Chinese publishers. A large majority of these titles were digital, and the rest traditional paper publications.

The inaugural fair last year was attended by 154 exhibitors from 15 countries and regions, of which almost half were international publishing houses. The show, with exhibition space of 10,000 square meters and more than 50,000 new children’s books on display, was attended by 17,400 people over three days.

Wang says last year’s book fair focused on rights sales, but this year he hopes it will focus on exchanging knowledge and ideas, a central role of book fairs worldwide.

“We want to provide activities suitable for all the key players in the publishing industry, from the content creators like authors, illustrators and editors, through to intermediaries like book agents, book shops and users, like teachers and children.”

Around 190 exhibitors from 25 countries were expected to come to the fair, notably Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Pearson and Bloomsbury.

The only other international book fair that focuses on works for children is the 51-year-old Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy. Wang says the Shanghai fair has a big advantage-300 million Chinese children who are the end customers.

In addition, the Shanghai fair has strong support from its partners, including Shanghai Municipal Press and Publication Bureau, China Universal Press & Publication Co, and China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation Ltd, Wang says.

The Shanghai fair also enjoys the support of organizers of the London Book Fair because both operate under Reed Exhibitions, an international events organizer with headquarters in Richmond, Surrey, in the UK.

One big contribution the London fair organizers was to make in Shanghai is the hosting of a forum on transmedia, which entails different publications platforms coming together to deliver the same content.

Jacks Thomas, director of the London fair, says the growth of transmedia has changed the way content is delivered and taught to children.

“It has changed the way that children learn how to spell, learn different languages and learn times tables.”

A fine example is Puffin Rock, simultaneously a preschool television series and a book series, to be launched next year, she says. “The process has been done creatively, hand in hand.”

Thomas, who sees the London Book Fair as the Shanghai fair’s “older sister”, says Chinese children’s publishers are very visionary and cutting edge across all media they work with.

“Multimedia is not a threat as far as I can see in any Chinese publisher’s mind; it is more of an opportunity. Whereas sometimes in more mature markets it is very expensive to invest in the multimedia aspect, China is really leaping ahead in that.”

This may be due to the fact that China is a new market with a lot of investment, which makes the market very energetic, she says.

Thomas says one good example of a multimedia learning platform is Mandarin learning content hosted by Hanban, the common name for the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.

An example of creative content is talking dolls, which Hanban has created to help students practice Mandarin.

Another is a video cooking game that allows students to learn the name of different dishes and ingredients as one cooks with a video-simulated tool.

“This is very different from learning in the classroom 20 years ago. I think there is a lot of innovation like that in China, and Hanban is just one example. In China there is a massive consumer appetite that helps with being able to create something new.”

Globally, China is becoming an increasingly important player in the publishing industry both because of the creative content it produces and its great market demand for content from Western publishers, and this trend can be observed at the London Book Fair.

China has become much more involved at the London fair in terms of both inbound and outbound rights sales since it became the country of market focus at the event in 2012, Thomas says.

“I think it was China, in publishing terms, absolutely coming of age.”

However, language is still one major challenge facing the outbound growth of China’s publishing industry, and Thomas says her team has been working extensively with Chinese publishers to help them overcome the challenge by providing summaries of their titles to Western publishers so their content can be understood.

“The Chinese publishing market has really come to understand how international rights sales work in more mature markets. Publishing is a very mature market in continental Europe and America, and for China to be present as a country of market focus at the London Book Fair really shows that the Chinese publishing industry is there to do business and is there to be taken seriously.”

Wang says that Chinese publishers have traded book titles mostly with Asian countries because Asian markets have more similar cultures and accept Chinese books more readily. But this will change as readers globally grow more curious about Chinese culture and gain a deeper knowledge of it. He cites the popularity of Chinese author Mai Jia’s thriller novels in the United States.

“Such popularity would have been unimaginable a few years ago, and it signifies the increasing connectivity between the Chinese publishing industry and the global one,” Wang says.

Zhang Kexin and Laura Davis contributed to this story.