By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
At Least 200,000 People in AttendanceHaving concluded its four-day run (June 15 to 18), the Beijing International Book Fair was, we should remember, in a different stage of post-pandemic recovery than many other international book fairs and trade shows. The Beijing show is describing its just-closed fair as “meeting face-to-face with international colleagues for the first time since 2019.”
China experienced sweeping and very difficult coronavirus COVID-19 outbreaks late last year, following an unexpected and quick change by the government in its position on the crisis, as Simone McCarthy has reported for CNN, “which followed rising economic costs and unprecedented public protests against far-reaching controls.”
Certainly through no fault of Beijing’s public-facing book fair and its organizers, of course, this has left the show roughly a year behind other world events in publishing in regaining its traction. Further, many economists are reporting this week a deepening concern about the post-pandemic economy.
At Foreign Policy, James Palmer writes that a major loss of consumer confidence is pivotal: “Even before the pandemic, the Chinese economy was showing signs of slowing down. But today, public confidence is the biggest single factor in the faltering economy. After the last few years, people are unwilling to spend and unwilling to make even slightly risky investments.”
The Chinese book industry—in terms of its reliance on consumer activity—may be seeing and feeling the impact of readership-buyers’ reticence in the domestic economy’s picture near-term.
Lin: ‘Buzzing With Meetings’
One factor in the aftermath of the pandemic is a change in venue for the fair to the China National Convention Center in the center of the capital.
Liying Lin, the fair’s longtime director, is quoted expressing her satisfaction “after three years of the pandemic” that it’s been possible “to reconnect with old and new friends in the publishing industry at Beijing International Book Fair. Together, we can focus on the development of the global publishing industry.
“In the design of our exhibition hall for this year’s Beijing International Book Fair,” Lin says, “many new forms of publishing content and formats, including online literature and new publishing technologies, have made their debut at this year’s BIBF. The establishment of the Online Publishing Pavilion, international conferences and exchanges demonstrate the connection between publishing and technology.
“The new venue was buzzing with meetings and colleagues catching up. Very excited to hear of so many deals and partnerships struck during the fair.”
Karine Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), having spoken at the Seoul International Book Fair, as we reported, went on to Beijing, and there echoed some of what Lin was saying.
“We need events like the Beijing International Book Fair to come together,” Pansa said.
“The IPA has very successfully used technology to keep our membership close during the pandemic. Our general assemblies for the past three years have been held online and our committee and membership elections have also been electronic in that time.
“I’m very proud to say that we succeeded in gathering 100 percent of our members’ votes in this way. But despite this success there have also been times when face-to-face, physical meetings like this one are essential.”
Numbers From the Four-Day Run
The fair’s administration has provided to us several rounded figures by way of demonstrating the levels of various activities during this year’s fair.
- Attendees at this public-facing fair are reported to have numbered at least 200,000; for comparison, we had attendance figures in 2019 of more than 320,000
- Organizers say the fair attracted more than 2,500 exhibitors and showcased more than 200,000 Chinese and international titles
- Some 60 percent of exhibitors are said to have come this year from outside China, representing 56 regions and countries
- There are reported by organizers to have been at least 13 collective stands, comprising those from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Iran
- A reported total of more than 900 international exhibitors included Elsevier, Springer Nature, Pearson, Wiley, Scholastic, McGraw Hill, Cengage Learning, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Taylor & Francis, Penguin Random House, Macmillan Publishing, Bloomsbury, Usborne, Nosy Crow, Prestel Publishing, the Quarto Group, and Arcturus Publishing
- Tech companies engaged in the show, we’re told, included NetEase Games, Tencent Games, China Literature, and Bilibili
Professional programming included three conferences: a PubTech Conference (June 15); a Beijing International Publishing Forum (June 16); and an International Publishing Enterprises High Level Conference (June 17), the latter looking at “opportunities in STM publishing, international collaboration, and the increased use of technology in publishing.”
As for rights trading, in the past, the fair’s administration has announced various rights-trade transactions as faits accomplis, but of course many trade meetings held at these events only lead–or don’t—to actual deals closed later, sometimes much later.
It’s good to see that this year’s information is being expressed to us in the more appropriate phrase “copyright trade agreements or intentions” between Chinese and international publishers, effectively meaning that the numbers we’re being given are a count of the meetings that participants told the fair they held, not conclusive agreements. And that’s a fully adequate description of rights activity at a show, since definitive “done deals” are much less prevalent than conversations. Surely there were some done deals made over tables, but we simply don’t have a way to quantify that, nor in fact do a fair’s organizers because actual deals and transactions are private.
In that context, then, we’ll use the word discussions for these figures, and we’re told by the fair that participants held:
- 1,387 copyright export discussions
- 502 copyright import discussions
- 111 “cooperative publishing intentions and agreements” discussions
The guest of honor market at the show this year was Algeria, a choice at the 65th Beijing International Book Fair related to the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations, we’re told, between Beijing and Algiers. Guest of Honor Algeria mounted a 500-square-meter stand with a display of more than 800 books, “showcasing Algeria’s customs, literature, art, and culture,” and reportedly opening a promotion of “Sino-Arab cultural exchanges and copyright trade.”
Special Book Award of China
An honor called the Special Book Award of China, in its 16th iteration, was given, we’re told, to 20 people from 16 countries. Those recipients are said to include six translators, six publishers, and eight writers. Notably, Frances Wood, a British historian and specialist on China, was among the winners.
The full list of winners provided to Publishing Perspectives:
- Hussein Ismail Hussein Hassan – Egypt
- Isabelle Jeannine Rabut – France
- Dr. Józsa Sándor – Hungary
- Ehsan Doostmohammadi – Iran
- Patrizia Liberati – Italy
- Koichiro Inahata – Japan
- Cù Thi Thúy Lan – Vietnam
- Alain Marcel Lévy – France
- Jehad Ahmad Abdallah Abuhasheesh – Jordan
- Dinesh Kulatunga – Sri Lanka
- Jeremy Guy North – United Kingdom
- Christina Marie Henry – United States
- Smail Debeche – Algeria
- Gustavo Emilio Ng – Argentina
- Elias Marco Khalil Jabbour – Brazil
- Sergei Komissarov – Russia
- Rashid Alimov – Tajikistan
- John Marshall Ross – United Kingdom
- Frances Wood – United Kingdom
- William Arnold Porter – United States
Announcements are reported to have been made during the course of the show of several publishing partnerships, including:
- Phoenix Publishing and Media in a three-year publishing partnership with Springer Nature
- China Academy of Social Sciences in a co-publishing partnership with Taylor & Francis on a Chinese history program
- China Translation Publishing House in a partnership, again with Springer Nature, for an English-language edition of China Economic Reform Process
- Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press in a co-publishing partnership with Taylor & Francis in foreign literature topics
- Central China Media in a co-publishing partnership, yet again with Springer Nature, for the Palgrave series on global sinology
- Jiangsu Phoenix Fine Arts Publishing House in a partnership with Royal Collins Publishing Group of Canada. to publish the English edition of The Way of Calligraphy by Sun Xiaoyun
- Yilin Press in a partnership with Long River Press to publish an English edition of China: A Home Away, a memoir of Belgian sinologist Luc Kwanten
Dates for the 2024 Beijing International Book Fair have been set for June 19 to 23.
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–which has influenced the Beijing fair’s scheduling and staging–is here.
Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.