Publishers report on 'phenomenal' Shanghai book fair

Publishers have reported a “storming” inaugural Shanghai Children’s International Book Fair, with rights they could have sold “10 times over”.

China’s first international children’s fair (7th–9th November) saw exhibitors including the Publishers Association, Hachette Children’s Books, HarperCollins, Nosy Crow, Top That!, Windmill Books and Brown Bear Books, World of Books, Digital Leaf, Sweet Cherry Publishing and Small World Creations, along with many other European and Chinese publishers.

Exhibitors networked and traded rights for the initial two days before the fair was opened up to the public.

Andrew Sharp, groups rights and digital director for Hachette Children’s Books, told The Bookseller: “It has been phenomenal: overwhelming at times. I have been in back–to-back meetings since I arrived. I planned to have 40–50 meetings but I have had about double that. I could have sold rights 10 times over if I was able to.”

Sharp said the fair was focused mostly on fiction, with picture books seeminglythe most popular area. “The culture is very much that children read to learn but I have sensed that this fair is trying to get out the message of reading for pleasure,” he said. Sharp added: “What this has really done is given us an opportunity to meet Chinese publishers.

Previously we have had to rely on communicating through agents and this has given me a lot more insight into what is going on and what people want.”

Abdul Thadha, founder of Leicester-based Sweet Cherry Publishing, said: “There was massive interest from librarians who wanted to buy books in different languages, which is a bonus I wasn’t expecting. Picture books have been of the main interest. I haven’t signed any deals but I have got so many leads that I can’t help but think there will be a lot to come from it.”

He added: “I think this show has been absolutely brilliant. Those who have not come have missed out. I did not anticipate there would be this many publishers here . . . on the first day all my slots had gone, there was no time for lunch and I was meeting with publishers back to back. The only thing I would change for next year is to have more distributors here as there doesn’t seem to be any and obviously they are important.” Digital Leaf founder Dustin Brooks said the success of the fair had launched the company’s international expansion plans a year ahead of schedule. “It was definitely worth us coming,” he said.

“In terms of building relationships and contacts and approaching people for business, it has been just as busy as Frankfurt. We haven’t actually signed any deals, but there is lots of potential in interest from Chinese publishers and also, interestingly, libraries, which want to stock our books. They want English books in their libraries for all the people who are learning English and picture books are good to learn the language. It was meant to be part of our strategy to go into China next year, but we have now started a year early.”

Chinese children's publishers have their say:

Chinese children’s publishers at the fair expressed frustration at the lack of interest in their titles from UK publishers.

Zhu Jing, foreign rights manager for Zhejiang Juvenile & Children’s Publishing House, told The Bookseller: “We publish about 500 new titles a year, of which around 20% are imports. We do a lot of business with Dorling Kindersley in the UK. We really hope to sell more titles into the UK but right now we don’t have much understanding of what the young readers are looking for or interested in. We have been to the London Book Fair, Frankfurt and Bologna and tried different agents to sell titles to the UK but it hasn’t been very successful so far.”

Zhou Qing, chief editor and vice-president of Shanghai Century Publishing, said the past 10 years had seen “huge growth” in China’s children’s publishing, particularly in children’s fiction, which she attributed to the emergence of more authors and a new generation of educated parents who understand the importance of reading. “We have published a lot of imports but we are less successful at exports. We are really hoping to work more with English publishers and agents to sell our rights,” she said.

She added that she expected the market to continue to grow in audio and digital formats.

Kate Wilson blog: Visiting Shanghai