Beijing International Book Fair: More Than Half Its Exhibitors From Overseas

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Delayed by three weeks amid COVID-19 spread-mitigation measures. the Beijing International Book Fair held its five-day run last week.

Well-masked attendees at the 28th Beijing International Book Fair’s main entry hall. Image: BIBF

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

More than 105 Countries and Territories
As you’ll remember from our earlier coverage, the 28th Beijing International Book Fair encountered the show organizer’s nightmare. Its anticipated physical opening on August 25 was scuttled at a very late moment by public health authorities. The show ran instead on postponed dates, opening September 14 and running through Saturday (September 18).

In the interim, there was a predictable period of uncertainty for in-country and offshore exhibitors, as director Liying Lin and her staff worked to sort out what could be expected in terms of reliable run dates. Messaging during that period was less informative than everyone might have wished. But such is the disruption of a last-minute change of this kind.

Needless to say, the protracted upheavals of this second pandemic year have tested the patience of all of us. Having killed at least 4,717,728 people in the world, per the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center in its Wednesday (September 22) report, the coronavirus COVID-19 doesn’t care about books or book fairs, literary festivals or trade shows.

When representatives of the show in Beijing sent its report on its numbers this week, you could sense a relief that despite the jolt of the delay, the show had been recovered.

The Beijing International Book Fair’s 2021 edition ended up with:

  • More than 1,600 exhibitors
  • Attendees and exhibitors representing more than 105 countries and regions
  • Chinese exhibitors from 34 provinces
  • More than half its physical exhibitors overseas
  • More than 600 international publishers engaged in digital offerings
  • Thirteen of China’s top 50 companies engaged

Physical participation was limited for safety, as planned, to Chinese and other in-country players. Those exhibiting from abroad were offered the use of the “SmartBIBF” program that provided on-site Chinese representatives to man a stand. Operating in this format, the program says it had first-time participation from Algeria, Laos, Palestine, Angola, Jamaica, Nigeria, Denmark, and Finland.

In its “SmartLive” digital offering, the program of digital booths, exhibitors reportedly participated from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. The fair hosted more than 300 digital meetings and events, its report tells us, including more than 60 international trade meetings. As of Saturday, the show had logged more than 1 million page views of its “SmartBIBF” site.

Guest of Honor Pakistan had chosen this year to be at the fair to commemorate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Islamabad.

A 15th annual Special Book Award of China was made to 15 writers, translators, and publishers including:

  • Jerusha Hull McCormack (Ireland), he first Irish winner of the annual award since it was established in 2005
  • Maxime Vias, a French writer and journalist and literary critic
  • David Ferguson (United Kingdom), a translation specialist
  • Laurence Brahm (United States), a writer who has lived and worked in China for 40 years
  • Terry Robinson (United Kingdom), senior vice-president of Cengage Learning UK and managing director of Gale International
  • Michael Lackner (Germany), a German translator and educator
Bodour Al Qasimi: ‘Together We Are Stronger’

International Publishers Association president Bodour Al Qasimi addresses the professional program at the 2021 Beijing International Book Fair. Image: BIBF

The professional program at the Beijing International Book Fair is called its International Publishing Forum, and it was held on September 16 with Li Pengyi, vice-president of the Publishers Association of China hosting.

Among attendees were Mao Yuansheng, vice-president of China Publishing Group; Stefan von Holtzbrinck, CEO of the eponymous publishing group; Philip Kisray, vice-president for international development with Wiley; Niels Peter Thomas, managing director of books with Springer Nature; Steve Potash, president of Overdrive;  James Smith, CEO of ACC Publishing Group in Australia; and Mohamad Elkhatib, CEO of Digital Future Lebanon.

In a digitally delivered address to the assembly, Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the International Publishers Association, referred to what would soon be announced as the ‘Inspire’ charter for international cooperation and mutual support among publishers, saying, “After living with this pandemic, we’re left with a new perspective.

“We all understand clearly now that together we are stronger. As an industry, we have grown increasingly more interdependent. Strengthening our international communication for stronger cooperation is at the heart of what we do in the IPA.

“Many book fairs have been implementing innovative ideas to maintain continuity of business and to support ongoing conversations,” she said. “The Beijing International Book Fairs’ use of smart technologies for book rights deals and international networking is just one example of the creativity displayed by many national associations and book fair organizers. It reflects a desire to maintain business continuity despite the odds, as well as a desire to support more international partnerships. I’m amazed by the creativity and the resilience of publishers worldwide.”

And among known rights deals and projects announced during the fair and listed for Publishing Perspectives, are:

  • Oxford University Press and the Commercial Press (China Publishing Group) introduced two new dictionaries: The Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (5th edition) and The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English (English/Chinese)
  • Routledge and Commercial Press also released two titles in English: Principles of New Ethics by the Chinese philosopher Wang Haiming and The Development Trajectory of Eastern Societies and The Theories and Practices of Socialism by Zhao Jiaxiang, both part of the “China National Governance” series
  • Yilin Press, an imprint of Phoenix publishing, and Media signed a new rights agreement with Borgerhoff Lamberights (Belgium) to publish the Chinese novel Forget Me in Dutch, a biography of Qian Xiuling known as the “Schindler of China” for saving 110 Belgian hostages held by the Nazis in World War II
  • Jiangsu Phoenix, a juvenile and children’s publisher, signed a new rights agreement with Pakistan’s Beyond Horizon publishing house to publish the Chinese children’s bestseller I Want to be Good by Huang Beijia, translated into English by Britain’s Nicky Harman
  • SDX Joint Publishing, an imprint of China Publishing Group, and Springer Nature signed a publishing agreement to release the Chinese archeologist Xu Hong’s work, East Asian Bronze in the Pre-Oracle Period in English

Representatives of Routledge and Commercial Press celebrate their co-release of two titles at the Beijing International Book Fair. Image: BIBF

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.

Publishing Perspectives is the world media partner of the International Publishers Association.

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.