After a “frantic” few days at the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) last week, UK publishers have reported a successful fair with their Chinese counterparts hungry for content, but also increasingly on the lookout for audio and film and TV rights.
The 25th edition of the BIBF (22nd to 26th August) was a record year with organisers saying the event had around 300,000 visitors—150,000 of those were publishing professionals, an increase of 30% on 2017.
Children's independent Nosy Crow struck one of the biggest deals for UK publishers at the fair, selling the rights to board book series Sing Alongs to state owned Chinese publisher CITIC for six figures.
This year saw BIBF implement a children’s strand for the first time, which put it in direct competition with Shanghai International Children’s book Fair (SIBCF), which takes place annually, in November. Small and mid-sized children’s publishers The Bookseller spoke to previously said they would continue to visit both fairs biannually, but following the success of BIBF, Nosy Crow m.d. Kate Wilson has said the publisher is considering returning to China this year for the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair in November for “round two”.
Similarly, Michael O'Mara Books had a "very successful" time at the fair, according to foreign and digital sales director Pinelopi Pourpoutidou, with the publisher securing firm offers for eight of their titles from two different publishers.
“We had immediate success with titles in series, at least two or more, as Chinese publishers always prefer series, for easier publicity and getting promotional space in bookstores, and are more hesitant to buy individual titles,” Pourpoutidou said. “All the offers we received up to now were for children’s titles, especially for titles related to English language learning, and writing in the Latin alphabet, as well as books relating to learning history, natural history, and history of art in new and creative ways. The most successful of our children’s titles usually have an educational aspect, but presented in a more original way rather than a standard textbook.”
Caroline Clarke, senior rights executive at Canongate, praised the "busy" nature of the fair and said there was a great deal of interest in titles from UK publishers.
Clarke said: “I had many requests for books which were inspiring and empowering, both in terms of non-fiction and fiction, as well as award-winning literary writers. There was also a big demand for audio rights as well as TV and film rights specifically for a Chinese adaptation.”
Jenna Brown, rights manager at Watkins, agreed that there was a lot of interest in audio. “I'm sure we'll see more of this over the next year,” she said.
Laurence King Publishing also saw interest in audiobook and e-book rights, with head of rights Barney Duly saying this was true of “unexpected” titles as well.
“In China, people use their mobile phones more widely in their everyday lives than we do,” he said. “Naturally, pragmatic local publishers try to maximise sales across multiple formats.”
Meanwhile, Nick Wells, founder of Flame Tree Publishing, said his time in Beijing was “extremely successful”, in fact, “the best in three years”.
“Generally all UK and US publishers seemed pleased with their Beijing trip. As Flame Tree though, we changed strategy, had more meetings off-stand, longer meetings, and more cultural exchanges to add to the developing rights sales,” he said.
This year’s BIBF hosted a Digital Zone, which featured a programme of seminars and conferences devoted to digital technology in publishing.
Highlights included new developments in using artificial intelligence in publishing, with Chinese media company Netease Youdao launching the Chinese edition of Blockchain – The Untold Story by Srinivas Mahankali in cooperation with Publishing House of Electronics Industry (PHEI). The book is the first in the world to be translated by AI. Once translated from English into Chinese, the book was corrected and revised by the human team at Youdao to ensure that no trace of “machine translation” remained.
The BIBF Digital Publishing Forum, which took place over two full days of the Fair, featured speakers from across the industry giving their analysis and predictions of the next generation of digital publishing. Speakers included Michael Evans c.e.o. at rights specialist The Charlesworth Group who looked at digital publishing and IP, and Sally Xie, founder of digital content platform Kada Story, who gave her thoughts on how to build a new ecosystem for Chinese children’s reading in the digital era. Chinese online educational specialists Xueersi talked about AI, and experts from Microsoft, AWS and others discussed the future of cloud based and data driven knowledge services.