What to Expect at the Beijing International Book Fair

In Feature Articles by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka


BEIJING: Trying to take in the totality of Chinese publishing is a lot like sitting down to a Chinese banquet and trying to figure out what to eat first. With thousands of publishers, both state sponsored and independent, putting out some 300,000 titles each year (about the same number as in the US), there’s a lot on the table. One place where you can get a good sense of the overall scene is at the annual Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which takes place this week, from Thursday through Sunday at the China International Exhibition Centre.

Despite the global economic recession, hosts are anticipating a better year than 2008, when the event was forced to move to Tainjin, 60 km away from the capitol, in deference to the Olympics. Last year, a total of 1,390 publishing companies from 51 different countries exhibited some 150,000 titles; this year, some 56 countries are participating, with more than 800 foreign publishers and 700 Chinese publishers registered to participate.

It is now thought to be the fourth largest trade book fair in the world, following Frankfurt, BookExpo America and London.

In a letter introducing this year’s event, Jiao Guoying, acting president of the China National Publications Import and Export Corporation — the organization responsible for the BIBF — said that the fair is prioritizing efforts to “improve its traditional book show and special shows of periodicals, children’s books, cartoons and animation, printing and new technology.”

Events scheduled for the Fair include the “2009 Digital Printing in China Technological Summit” on September 4, matchmaking conferences for UK, German and Chinese publishers, as well as special sessions on translation and copyright.

It’s likely the BIBF will also offer a preview of some of the offerings the Chinese will bring to this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, where China is the Guest of Honor. This year at the BIBF, Spain is the “Country of Honor.” The occasion will be marked with some two dozen events, including a theatrical interpretation of Don Quixote, a Don Quixote film festival, dance performances and readings by Spanish authors, such as Juan Madrid and Jesús Ferrero.

Overseas visitors, particularly from the US and Europe, visiting the BIBF for the first time are likely to see and hear a few statistics that will shock them, because the scale of everything, particularly with regard to digital publishing, is so much bigger than one might expect. According to GAPP — the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP), which controls print publications and the distribution of news to both print and Internet publications  – there are 680 million Chinese cell phone users, 340 million internet users, 32 million bloggers, and 900,000 commercial Web sites engaged in content development.

Among the fastest growing segments in Chinese publishing are Web sites that publish “online novels.” The leading such company, Shanda Literature, was founded in July 2008, today boasts some ten million daily users who log on to read some of the 500,000 novels posted on the site. What’s more, there are some 8,000 new novels posted each day. (Look for a full profile of Shanda in an upcoming issue of Publishing Perspectives).

That said, perhaps the most popular product of all in bookstores isn’t a book at all, but a “mook” — a hybrid magazine/book. In recent years, mooks by writers such as Guo Jingming and Han Han have sparred for the top of the bestseller list, routinely selling millions of copies, often within a very brief period. Typically, a “mook” caters to a the young adult reader, offering a light, romantic highly-illustrated story accompanied by gossipy, fanzine-style side-bars about the author.

Whether these types of titles will hold interest for Western publishers remains to be seen. In 2008, rights activity at the BIBF was brisk, with 1,824 contracts and 9,500 letters of intent signed. Copyright issues remain a major concern for Western publishers working with the Chinese. In May of this year, the BIBF held a special two-day “copyright convention” to raise further awareness of the issue and identify it as a top priority.

As of 2008, in statistics cited by local trade publication China Publishing Today, the total number of overseas publishing copyrights contracts (excluding those from Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong) was 1,268 and worth 14,000,000 RMB ($2.1 million).

VISIT: The Web site of the BIBF

SEE: The full list of events celebrating Spain at the BIBF

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.