Beijing International Book Fair: Phoenix Publishing’s Global Strategy

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Reporting operational revenue in 2018 of US$2.5 billion, China’s sprawling Phoenix Publishing & Media Group has partnerships in 30 countries and wants to get only bigger.

At the Beijing International Book Fair, Phoenix Publishing & Media Group subsidiary Phoenix Vocational Education Book has launched its new ‘China Today’ guide for international professionals and students on the contemporary culture of the market. The book is by university professors Fan Xiangtao and Wu Dingmin, who signed copies during the launch in Beijing, Image: PPMG

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

She Jiangtao: ‘Becoming a Global Publishing Group’

With the 26th edition of the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) opening Wednesday, the Nanjing-based Phoenix Publishing & Media Group (PPMG) has kicked off what it’s describing as an aggressive effort to build an international footing for itself by working with major trade publishers, STEM and university publishers, and specialists in many parts of the West.

The company has for eight years described itself as China’s “largest all-’round publishing company,” and in 2018 reported operational revenue of 18 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion). The group comprises four companies and PPMG is the second largest shareholder in Nanjing Securities and a major shareholder of the Bank of Jiangsu. Phoenix holds shares in or controls 119 companies, according to the company’s June report, including 20 publishing houses.

At this week’s Beijing International Book Fair, the company’s exhibition stands are at open at W1.Co3, E2.B20, E3.0901, and W4.135.

As Publishing Perspectives has reported, this week’s iteration of the Beijing fair, directed again this year by Liying Lin, is expected to draw some 300,000 attendees. They’ll encounter displays of content and services from as any as 2,500 exhibitors from at least 95 nations. Designed as a public-facing fair with a professional program, the BIBF is housed in eight exhibition halls at the China International Exhibition Center.

Starfish Publishing, the largest publisher of Marvel comics in China, is a new exhibitor this year, as is Jiliguala, described as a game-based English-teaching app for children. The 10-year-old Emirates Publishers Association is set to exhibit for the first time at BIBF, and Macau is to be there with a collective stand, another first.

And of course, what’s striking about Phoenix’s expansion strategy, announced in a ceremony at the fair, is its timing. Tariffs that are to be levied by the United States on many consumer goods starting September 1 include American fiction and nonfiction, art books, textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, professional books and more, while children’s books are part of the group of tariff-vulnerable book categories that Donald Trump has delayed to December 15. On Tuesday (August 20), Taylor Telford at The Washington Post reported a JPMorgan Chase estimate that US households may have to spend as much as $1,000 annually for the tariffs.

Trump earlier this week acknowledged, for the first time,  as the Associated Press and other news media have reported, “that his China trade policies may mean economic pain for Americans, though he insisted the tariffs are needed for more important long-term benefits.” As we’ve reported, the US publishing industry—heavily dependent on China to print what the Association of American Publishers terms “a great quantity” of its books and would need years to develop the work it outsources to China in this regard.

But She Jiangtao, vice president of Phoenix Publishing and Media, says in an interview conducted exclusively for Publishing Perspectives that he’s undaunted.

She Jiangtao, president of Phoenix Publishing & Media. Image: Phoenix Publishing

A Goal: ‘Partnerships With All Major US Publishers’

“Our plan is to develop partnerships with all major US publishers,” She Jiangtao says, “through our American subsidiary, Cardinal Media LLC, to provide us with fast access to North American markets.

“We’re committed to becoming a global publishing media group with strong skills in every part of the publishing chain and delivering significant cultural impact and international influence, through innovating content, product forms and business models.”She Jiangtao, PPMG

“The history of Phoenix in the USA took a leap forward,” he says, “when we completed the acquisition of the children’s book business of US publisher Publications International in 2014,” a deal he says was the largest transnational merger to date made by a Chinese publishing house.

“Since then, we have opened our own investment company in the US to promote Chinese culture overseas, set up headquarters in Chicago with an office in New York, and we’ve published 23 English-language books in 2018 with many more planned.”

She says he’s especially pleased with the partnership the company holds with Switzerland-based Peter Lang International Academic Publishing Group. One of the works that Phoenix is featuring this week at the fair—The Crucial Ten Years: The Chinese Experience of Cultural Heritage Protection—is a project that the Yillin Press team has worked on with the Lang group, centered in Bern.

The Crucial Ten Years, he says, “tells the story of the protection of our cultural heritage and the development of contemporary museums in China.”

Encompassing steps from urban planning and heritage research and protection to museum development, “This book clearly reflects scholarly learning and the development of the whole museum industry. The Crucial Ten Years presents readers with an authentic voice from China, and I hope that more readers around the world can appreciate the conservation achievements of China’s cultural heritage” through the book’s reflection on them.

Another company Phoenix is working with, She says, is the Boston-based Cengage Learning, headed by Michael Hansen, and much in publishing news lately for its controversial proposed McGraw-Hill merger and subscription model. There, the focus is a book on contemporary China for newcomers to the market.

China Today—launched today at the Beijing fair—is by two university professors, Fan Xiangtao and Wu Dingmin, and published by Phoenix Vocational Education Books Ltd., and targets international students as well as business people with explications of current mass media trends and popular culture in China.

‘China Today,’ getting a major launch ceremony from Phoenix Publishing & Media Group in Beijing is part of the company’s strategy for Western outreach. Image: PPMG

She Jiangtao: ‘Audiobooks are a major part of our strategy’

In all, She says, the company now has partnerships with companies in more than 30 countries and wants to build more liaisons, especially in the “One Belt, One Road” context developed by the Xi government as an trade strategy reaching into Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.

“We will focus on sharing resources,” She says, in these outreach efforts, “building channels and jointly carrying out publishing and cultural ventures.”

In more of the Phoenix portfolio, he says, the digital and audio companies, called Phoenix Media Publishing and Phoenix Digital Media, are working in high-level brand-licensing, introducing a series of Peppa Pig and Hey Duggee audiobooks on their paid-content platforms.

“Audiobooks are a major part of our strategy,” he says, “for developing content outside of print publishing, using mainstream platforms such as Himalayan FM,” which is the largest Chinese paid-for content for podcasts.

“We’re also exporting copyrighted work,” he says, “and have already sold more than 1,000 kinds of non-Chinese-language copyrights overseas since 2016.

“One of our stars is the internationally award-winning children’s title Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, the first Chinese winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Cao’s bestseller has sold into 16 countries including the USA, UK, and Germany, as well as Nepal and Cambodia.” She says Cao is to embark on a major book tour in the fall of this year.

She Jiangtao has been vice president of Phoenix Publishing & Media since May, having been made the publisher of the company’s Jiangsu People’s Publishing House in 2006 and publisher of Jiangsu Science and Technology Publishing House in 2010. All told, he has some 30 years in the business, three of the spent as director of the editorial board for PPMG.

In talking of his new strategy overall, he’s ready with the mission statement: “We’re committed to becoming a global publishing media group with strong skills in every part of the publishing chain and delivering significant cultural impact and international influence, through innovating content, product forms and business models.”

Broken down in to components, he says, this is really a four-part approach in which he wants to see the company “work with specialist partners in key areas; organize international literary tours and professional visits; create new literary brands; and use an international editorial team.”

And getting that right down to a specific project? “We have a great example of how the Phoenix model of international collaboration works in practice with Beautiful Childhood, a children’s fiction series by PPMG’s imprint Jiangsu Juvenile and Children’s Publishing.

“Jiangsu’s international team invited writers to tell stories on childhood development, using different cultures but the same themes. The first novel, Travels of a Fourteen Year Old, was written by Guido Sgardoli of Italy. Since the book was launched last year, we’ve sold the rights in India and Vietnam.”

The Beijing International Book Fair runs through Sunday (August 25).

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Beijing International Book Fair is here. Our China Bestsellers series of reports is here. And more from us on China and its market in general is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.