Beijing Book Fair: Digital Internationally, Physical for China’s Publishers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 35-year-old Beijing Book Fair, responding to public health constraints, will have international participants engaging digitally and in-country publishers offered a physical fair.

In Beijing, domestic tourists gather for a medal ceremony at Tiananmen Square. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Soya Yuxuan Songyang

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

Dates: August 25 to 29
The next jolt on the still-quaking landscape of world publishing’s trade shows arrives this morning (May 17) from China where the Beijing International Book Fair is announcing that its 2021 edition will be hybrid and limited to physical attendance by Chinese and China-based publishers, in response to public health limitations.

What organizers are describing as “a large physical in-person fair” will offer stands that can be manned by Chinese assistants, and a service called Smart!Assistant (the exclamation point is theirs, not ours), as well as collective stands. These assistants, the fair’s messaging says, will be able to “present international publishers titles to interested Chinese publishers and forward their contacts after the fair.”

The fair in China’s capital is set for August 25 to 29.

And this “Smart” branding is a continuation of what the fair last year named the Smart Rights Link—they weren’t at the exclamatory stage then, apparently—an umbrella phrase for its online services for publishers during the heaviest restrictions of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers say that 1,400 publishers utilized the digital services in 2020, a sum that includes 580 in-country publishers and institutions.

Representatives say the system has at least 38,000 titles on display and had more than 1 billion visits last year.

Citing research statistics from Publishing Perspectives‘ partner for our China bestsellers series, Beijing OpenBook, the company says China’s book market has shown an 18.6-percent rise in the first quarter over Q1 2020. Online sales, the fair says, are up 10.69 percent and physical stores are reporting an aggregate rise of 55.44 percent.

‘To Reimagine What Book Fairs Look Like’

Today’s messaging is quite brief, but we do have a statement from the fair’s leadership. Liying Lin is the show’s longtime director and a familiar figure to Publishing Perspectives readers.

Lin Liying

Lin references those figures’ indications of strong growth and says that the book fair “will be back to support the publishing industry in both physical and digital forms this year.

“At the physical event, we hope to welcome publishers from across China and locally-based representatives from around the world.

“Our digital platform will enable us to welcome thousands of publishers from around the globe. While we know digital cannot replace face-to-face communication, we hope that services such as our new SMART!Assistant can open up opportunities for people who may not have been able to attend traditional book fairs at all in the past.

“I think this is an exciting opportunity to reimagine what global book fairs look like and BIBF is at the forefront of this initiative.”

It’s anticipated that new information will be posted to the company’s site in June. Current listings of exhibitors are seem to be those of last year’s iteration of the event.

This fair is staged by the China National Publications Import and Export Corporation and has been a fixture in the annual international trade show year since 1986. The company says it’s the world’s second largest book fair in the world, presumably second to Frankfurter Buchmesse, with visitors and exhibitors each year representing some 97 nations.

The Coronavirus in China

In Beijing, March 23, 2020. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Vesa Niskanen

At this writing, the 10:20 a.m. ET (1420 GMT) update of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center sees 102,748 cases reported in China’s population of 1.4 billion, with 4,846 fatalities.

News reports carry some concerning information about recent outbreaks. In Guangzhou, Guo Rui reports for the South China Morning Post that reports of new community transmissions of the contagion have prompted a search for a “patient zero” between Yingkou and Dalian, highway stops requiring drivers to show negative test results from within the past 72 hours.

The latest outbreak, Guo writes, has also triggered “a rush on vaccines, with Hefei authorities saying residents were turning out in record numbers to get the shots.”

A CGTN report with input from Xinhua says, “More than 100,000 people who were given nucleic acid tests in Feixi County in east China’s Anhui Province on Saturday (May 15) tested negative for COVID-19.” And in the Bayuquan district of Yingkou City in northeast China’s Liaoning Province, as many as 500,000 people have been put through tests, per these reports, where several cases have been detected.

China’s process, then, is heavily aimed at quick and firm response to even small numbers of reported cases, which are considered to be instances of community spread.

On Sunday, China suspended the spring climbing season from the Tibetan side of Mount Everest, according to Xinhua reports picked up by CNN’s Rob Picheta, Shawn Deng, Bex Wright, Akanksha Sharma, and Kosh Raj Koirala. “On May 9,” the report has it, “Chinese state media reported that the country was planning to set up a ‘line of separation’ at the summit of Mount Everest to avoid climbers from the Nepali side mingling with those ascending from the Tibetan side, as a way to deter the spread of the coronavirus.”

Nepal is reportedly experiencing a very fast rise in newly reported coronavirus cases, with “roughly 20 percent of Nepal’s total cases since the pandemic began reported in the last 10 days,” the CNN story has it.

Subway passengers in Beijing on a platform in April 2020. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Qizai

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.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing 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.