All the fun of the fair: insight from English-language exhibitors

All the fun of the fair: insight from English-language exhibitors

Beijing International Book Fair returnees give us an indispensable glimpse into the Chinese market and extol the benefits of attending the fair.


Usborne has been exhibiting at Beijing International Book Fair for several years now, with the continued buoyancy of the market causing it to remain a focus for the illustrated children’s book publisher.

With a special Chinese-focused imprint, Usborne China, which launched in 2017 with local firm Jieli Publishing House, Usborne’s activity in China is flourishing. Jennifer Ahn, rights sales manager at Usborne, says: "It feels like the Usborne brand has really come of age in China, with both our English-language business and the new Usborne China venture now well established. So the opportunity is really to see how the two sides of our business, English-language and Chinese-language, can build upon that presence."

As for challenges, Ahn cites piracy as the number one cause for concern. "The reach and sophistication of China’s online retail market means that the potential for damage caused by fake goods is that much greater," Ahn says. "Fortunately, Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly careful where and how they shop. Knowing they are sourcing authentic products is becoming even more important [for consumers] than price. This is especially so for Chinese parents and the books they source for their children."

Usborne has noticed Chinese publishers are particularly keen on collections of graded readers titles and non-fiction books with engaging features like lift-the-flaps. Ahn sees opportunities in the "sheer size of the market and the insatiable thirst for high-quality children’s books". She says: "Chinese people are passionate about their children’s education and strongly believe that good books are essential for good childhood."

Ahn’s 2019 Highlights
"We have 65 titles on Peep Inside (3+), Look Inside (5+) and See Inside (7+) series, published under Usborne Kanlimian series. Most of all, we are very excited to announce that we are going to publish a Chinese edition of See Inside Ancient China, an essential guidebook to understanding the rich Chinese culture; it’s a title that can be enjoyed by both children and parents."

Michael O’Mara

Michael O’Mara, an independent publisher of adults and children’s books, has had a stand at the Beijing International Book Fair since 2009, and since then has seen "steady and continuous growth" in the Chinese market. Last year, China became the publisher’s biggest foreign market, with a higher turnover than its previous biggest foreign markets, France and Germany.

According to foreign and digital sales director Pinelopi Pourpoutidou, the Chinese market is becoming increasingly diverse and mature, with many new home-grown authors competing with foreign authors. However, it is not without its challenges. "It is a crowded and very competitive market, with a large number of publishers competing for limited shelf space," Pourpoutidou says. "Also, due to the geographical distance, we can’t travel there as often as we would like, and so we only get first-hand information on the current market trends once a year, when attending the fair, and it’s difficult to always stay updated on new developments."

There are still great opportunities, she adds, especially as Chinese publishers are becoming more open and adventurous with the types of books they publish, and more likely to experiment with less traditional formats and topics. "There’s more interest in originality than there was a few years ago, and publishers are always open to trying something new".

Pourpoutidou’s 2019 Highlights
"Dr Maggie’s Tour of the Solar System is a great title for kids on the Solar System by BBC presenter and renowned space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. It’s coming out in September. The Simplified Chinese rights were very recently sold after a five-way bidding. We are also publishing the official illustrated companion to the hit TV series "Peaky Blinders", coming out this October."

Kogan Page

Business publisher Kogan Page will be exhibiting in Beijing for the 13th time this year. It has seen "significant growth" in business over the past few years, with translation rights sales in the territory up 78% this year. It’s not only the sale of Chinese rights that benefit from the publisher’s attendance at the fair, but also rights to other territories in South-East Asia such as Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. While Kogan Page is also represented by a local sales agent for English language sales, BIBF is primarily a rights fair for the publisher.

From a rights perspective, Helen Kogan, m.d. of Kogan Page, thinks the market is "very strong." She says: "We have good access to Chinese publishers and there is a robust publishing industry to do business with. There is a really strong emphasis on business and training, and so we are in a good position to promote our list. We haven’t felt any significant effects of the economic slowdown yet."

However, she adds that understanding the way in which the Chinese book industry works can be challenging. "We work through an agent for our English-language exports and that is invaluable in helping us to navigate the government-approved supply chain processes," she says, adding: "Censorship affects a number of publishers, but we tend not to have an issue with that."

Kogan’s 2019 Highlights
"AI is selling well for us and we have two strong titles in Human/Machine by Daniel Newman and Olivier Blanchard and Superhuman Innovation by Chris Duffy. We also expect good interest in The End of Marketing by Carlos Gil, and we’re very excited about the new edition of Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell."

Reaktion Books

Since art and culture publisher Reaktion Books first started exhibiting at the fair in 2002, the press has seen a "notable increase" in rights sales to China. "It has grown year on year to such an extent that it is now our largest market for translation," says publicity and rights director Maria Kilcoyne.

She adds: "The market in China seems to be buoyant, with offer values increasing all the time. There seems to be fierce competition for new titles. I work with various agents covering this vast publishing landscape, as well as doing direct deals with publishers I have met over the years."

Reaktion has been "very successful" in selling series of titles in the areas of astronomy (Kosmos series), art and culture (Renaissance Lives), natural history (Animal series), biography (Critical Lives) and ancient history (Lost Civilisations). "I’m just concluding a deal now for six titles in our Cityscopes guides to cities, which is very exciting," says Kilcoyne.

Visiting the fair is important for relationship building, Kilcoyne adds. "Chinese publishers really appreciate you meeting them on their home turf, and so visiting Beijing
fair opens doors and increases your company profile. It also fosters warmer relationships, with face-to-face interaction helping to overcome any language barriers. If you also find the opportunity to visit a publisher’s offices, you will be given a very warm reception. I am very excited to be going to Beijing again, and looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones."

Kilcoyne’s 2019 Highlights
"Dogs in Art by Susie Green is our big illustrated book for the autumn, following on from the success of Cats in Art by Desmond Morris in 2017. Also The Selfish Ape: Human Nature and Our Path to Extinction by Nicholas P Money, which was endorsed by Richard Dawkins and is universal in its message to humanity."

Rockpool Publishing

The Australian independent Rockpool Publishing is returning to its second BIBF after a successful first appearance at the fair last year. Paul Dennett, director and co-owner of the Sydney-based firm, believes Rockpool’s mind, body and spirit-based list jibes well with Chinese publishers, and vice-versa. He explains: "As we specialise in wellness, we are particularly interested in traditional Chinese health titles that can be shared with Western communities and our readers. We are also excited to meet Chinese publishers as we also buy translation rights for the English-speaking market worldwide."

Dennett set up Rockpool in 2006 with his wife, Lisa Hanrahan—now the company’s publishing director—after the duo saw "a gap in the market for local MBS and family and health authors". The two split their work, with Hanrahan in charge of all publishing decisions, while Dennett heads up the operations, marketing and overseas sales. Rockpool’s launch title was Alison Osborne’s new parents’ guide, The Post-Baby Conversation, which is still in print and remains one of the firm’s bestsellers internationally.

Its most successful range is perhaps its 45-title strong Oracle and Reading Card tarot series. In 2014, it launched a self-publishing services arm, Love and Write Publishing, while this month sees the first titles in its new Gelding Street Press imprint, which focuses on sport and Australian true stories.

Dennett’s 2019 Highlights
"For this BIBF, we are featuring a number of titles in our new Business Wellness genre; they focus on bringing traditional wellness techniques into the workplace, including Noa Belling’s The Mindful Body and The Happiness Workout, which is aimed at optimising brain function and enhancing creativity."