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International Approaches to Children’s Publishing in China

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by Dennis Abrams

Earlier this month the CCBF (China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce offered an online conference covering several aspects of children’s publishing in China. Among the highlights:

Kathy Kelly of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service’s Global Publishing Team, spoke about the role their 30 specialists take in helping small, medium, and independent publishers who need international assistance; and helping larger publishers establish contacts, advocating on their behalf, and sorting out payment issues.

Henan Sue, CEO of Beijing Ingenta Publishing Technology Limited offered several reasons why publishers should come to the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair: increased income, reduced costs (by utilizing local suppliers, designers, and media companies), and increased influence (through media coverage and establishing relationships with the government.)

“You’ll meet everybody, and most importantly, you’ll have the parents: Shanghai is currently the center of the best children’s education in China,” said Sue. “Shanghai is also one of the best places to meet production and distribution suppliers, it’s very manufacturing based. You’ll also meet book designers and see the most beautiful books in China. Shanghai is the most fashionable city in China — if your books are loved by Shanghai, they’ll be loved by all of China. And besides, we have China’s best food as well!”

Linda Warfel, Vice President of Strategic Business Development for Scholastic Asia, discussed several challenges Scholastic faced in entering the Chinese market and what they did to become successful. Among her suggestions:

  • Price to the market. ELL (English Language Learners) have to be aimed at the local market since the speed of audio impacts fluency, pronunciation, and reading complexity.
  • Market books appropriately. (In the US, for example, the “Goosebumps” series is marketed as humorous and scary; in China, the publishers approach was “to be brave.”)

What did Scholastic do that worked for them?

  • Set up Scholastic English Centers in Shanghai (later expanded into other cities) with a typical library/classroom set up – not a bookstore, but a place where educators as well as parents could learn about their materials.
  • Created the Scholastic Early English (SEE) Program with whiteboard technology to help train teachers and show them what they consider to be the best practices for storytelling and phonics (including teacher videos so that if they don’t understand the language, they can watch a veteran teacher in action).
  • Expanded their brand visibility by setting up Scholastic English Centers in shopping malls, and with signs in subways – all to make the brand a part of the community.
  • Sponsored English/Education contests. They provided workshops for teachers on how to use picture books to teach English reading and speaking.
  • Established good relationships with China’s leading import business and state-run bookstores.

Everything they did was with one purpose in mind – to become known as education solution providers.

Jessie Ness, from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Office of Policy and External Affairs spoke about copyright issues under the intriguing title: “China: To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense.” Pointing out that the counterfeiting and pirating of trademarked and patented goods “remain rampant in China,” Ness acknowledged that improvements have been made (membership in WTO, amendments to copyright laws), but the question still remains: Does China provide “adequate and effective” intellectual property protection?

For Ness, there are three “Rs” essential for doing business in China: “To help you enforce your rights in China, we recommend that you register these rights and record them, without which you may not have any remedies in case of infringement. (And for further assistance, the US government has a website, stopfakes.gov.)

And finally, Jackie Xu of Reed Exhibition China added more information about the upcoming China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (November 7-9), pointing out all that the Fair will have to offer exhibitors, while offering some interesting statistics to help answer the question “Why China?”

  • China is the world’s largest publishing market
  • Imports grew from USD43.2million in 2006 to USD116.7 million in 2011
  • China’s publishing industry income in 2011 surpassed 1.4 trillion yuan (USD226 billion).
  • China is home to 230 million 0-16 year-olds
  • Over 90% of the children’s content in China is imported
  • 52.45% of Chinese parents prefer purchasing books as investment in their children’s education, followed by borrowing books from library, 26.61%.
  • Over 70% Chinese parents purchase books for their children every month
  • Young parents are willing to and able to spend more for their children
  • Middle class parents favors beautifully printed original English books for their children

One final fun fact offered up in the question and answer session: international award winning children’s books are the most popular reads in China with both parents and children.

Read more about the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair here.

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