Publishers eye new generation

Experts say now is the golden age for kid's books in the country as new content meets demand.

Even though the publishing industry around the world has been in decline over the past decade, children's books have somehow managed to buck the trend. It is the only sector to thrive amid competition from new media, says Randy Wang of Reed Exhibitions, organizer of the China Shanghai Children's Book Fair.

The fair, which was held last month at the Expo Exhibition Center, celebrated its third edition in Shanghai with a huge crowd and vendor turnout that surprised the organizers.

"You might think online bookstores such as Amazon and Dangdang have taken over the retail business of books with their home-delivery services and discount prices," says Wang.

"Yet people don't hesitate to pay hundreds of yuan to buy imported books for their children at the fair."

Similarly in France, more than 12,000 children's books are published every year and 7,000 of them are new titles, says Nathalie Beau, a specialist in children's literature from France.

Sales of children's books have "never fallen", she adds, despite aggressive competition from digital content.

This year's children's book fair attracted more than 300 publishers and professionals from related industries, and they showcased more than 20,000 titles.

Five Scandinavian countries also participated in the fair for the first time.

Housed in a Nordic-themed pavilion, more than 10 institutions from these countries sold their products to Chinese parents.

Roleff Krakstromy from Finland pins his hopes on the Chinese market, saying that while the European market is getting saturated, people in China are eager for new content.

At the booth of Danish company Globe Publishing, Per Schou shows a series of playsets, each consisting of a book and board game he says is specially designed to helping develop the creative, physical, personal and social skills of children.

Schou is currently seeking a Chinese business partner to bring the product to the Chinese market.

Collaborations with foreign companies in the publishing sphere look set to continue as the China Children's Press and Publishing Group said at the fair that it plans to build a cooperation platform with countries that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative to boost international copyright trading and cultural exchanges.

The director of the group, Li Xueqian, says that there could be a joint booth to represent this partnership at major international book fairs such as the Bologna Children's Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Authors, editors and publishers agree that now is the golden age for children's publications in China.

Liang Yan, an editor of children's literature, says: "Never before have we seen so many publishing houses print so many books for children in China within one year. Never before have the government and NGOs paid so much attention to children's books, and authors who used to write for grown-ups are now more enthusiastic about creating content for young readers."

This phenomenon has boosted the confidence of the industry and has encouraged publishers to invest more money and efforts to improve the quality of their products, something that many parents used to find lacking. This was largely due to publishers being reluctant to take on the risk of introducing new titles to the market while cutting on design costs for new editions of classical tales.

However, one hurdle that publishers have to get past before they can meet the demand for quality products is the bad reputation they have earned themselves.

A book artist, whose pen name is Zaozi, claims that design and layout issues as well as dishonest practices have marred the relationship between artists and publishers.

Zaozi, who participated in the illustration competition during the fair, says: "Sometimes the book design is so bad, I don't even want to let people know that I did the illustrations.

"On other occasions, publishers steal artists' creations. There were times when we found out that our works were published only because our friends happened to come across the books. And of course, you aren't paid for it."

As a result, a large number of independent illustrators in China once turned away from publishers, opting instead to produce their own picture books to sell online. This created a legal gray zone because these publications did not have the State-issued ISBN (international standard book number), which meant that they could not be sold legitimately as published books in China.

The practice, however, did start a new trend where artists would take the initiative rather than the publishers.

Zhao Yufei, a 25-year-old illustrator, is one such artist. She is currently working with Utop Media, a production company that will print her debut publication and acquire the ISBN through collaboration with a State-owned publisher.

Titled 1,301 Planets, Zhao's book is about an astronaut who travels throughout the galaxy and visits 1,301 planets before returning to tell his daughter about his adventures.

Youth show growing appetite for reading

A new survey on the reading behavior of young people in China was released at the third edition of the China Children's Book Fair recently.

Among the findings is the fact that Chinese younger than 17 read much more than adults.

Since 2010, Chinese ages 14 to 17 read an average of 9.5 to 13.5 books every year, excluding textbooks, while children ages 9 to 13 read six to nine books a year.

The survey also showed that the market catering to young readers has grown by 10 percent every year in the past decade.

Meanwhile, due to increased cultural exchanges between East and West, new publications for children are being translated and published in China much quicker, and a group of authors of children's literature is steadily forming in China and is winning recognition from young readers.

While The Berestain Bears, a series of children's books created by American authors and illustrators Stan and Jan Berenstain, has been among the most popular books for Chinese children in the past year, China's own authors such as Zheng Yuanjie, Yang Hongying and Qin Wenjun have been quickly rising up the ranks.

Others, such as the Chinese author only known by his pen name Leon Image, have also achieved great success with his series of adventure books featuring a child detective and a dog named Charlie IX.

Separately, as children's reading platforms have expanded to include audio books, startup Web companies such as iDaddy.cn are also steadily drawing more paid users.

Demand for stories in English is growing, and this has encouraged iDaddy.cn to "take big steps" in buying more content from abroad, says Lu Ying, marketing director of the company.

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