The 27th edition of the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which would have taken place at the China International Exhibition Center from August 26 to August 30, kicked off its virtual version last week.
The first phase of a year-long “Smart BIBF,” programming began August 26 with the launch of Smart Rights Link and the BIBF Global Reading Festival. More than 1,000 exhibitors from 68 countries have registered for Smart Rights Link and uploaded more than 23,000 titles. Some 400,000 titles are expected to be available through the platform, which will remain operational until December 31. Online meetings for rights negotiations can be arranged until October 26. Smart BIBF also offers three business-matchmaking round tables—China-Asia, China-Europe, and China-America—that will take place on September 28, 29, and 30, respectively.
The Global Reading Festival, meanwhile, provides free livestreamed events from more than 100 publishing houses and cultural institutions from around the world, including the British Library on its classic collection.
In recent years, the U.K. has had the biggest overseas contingent at BIBF, and this has not changed with the virtual fair: more than 53 U.K. companies have registered and 1,200 titles uploaded for rights negotiation. The fair also boasts 97 new exhibitors, including 10 publishers from Latin America—including AZ Editora (from Argentina), Amanuense (Uruguay), and Somplemente (China)—as well as those from Armenia and Cape Verde. For these new exhibitors, the savings on airfares and accommodations, in addition to having the convenience of a virtual platform, are the major attractions.
Signs of Book Sales Improvement
As the virtual fair began, industry professionals were also watching results of China’s first major shopping festival of the year. Organized by JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce company, the 618 Shopping Festival, which ran from June 1 to June 18 (hence the name “618”), is a significant barometer on consumer spending and confidence.
Compared to the previous festival, sales of children’s books and educational titles for elementary and middle schools went up 43% and 40%, respectively. Sales of translated titles increased 57% while e-books experienced a huge sales boost. The Chinese edition of DK Natural History: The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth was the #1 title on the bestseller list, which also saw Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and a 40-volume Detective Sherlock Holmes illustrated series for primary school student among the top 10. As for e-books, the Harry Potter Complete Series dominated the sales chart.
In the January-June 2020 period, book sales via online channels went up 17.9% while sales at bricks-and-mortar bookstores declined 31.7% compared to the same period in the previous year, according to Centrin Ecloud, a Shanghai-based big-data platform for China’s publishing industry. The report showed indications that bookstore sales were improving, with data for May and June showing that sales at physical bookstores were at 80% (or above) of pre-pandemic levels.
Two categories showed the biggest year-on-year growth during the January–June period: sales of picture books rose 69.4% and sales of children’s encyclopedia/reference titles at 42.95%. The growth in these categories was directly attributed to the closure of kindergartens, parks, and libraries throughout the country, which boosted more parent-child reading activities at home. But with classroom education shifting to online during the Covid-19 outbreak, sales of textbooks and supplementary materials dropped significantly. The postponement of various examinations also affected the sales of test guides and exam preparation materials.
The Centrin report noted that only 42,763 new titles entered the Chinese book market during the first six months of 2020, marking a 27.7% decline compared the the same period last year. This was mostly due to publishers’ delaying new releases in light of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown. The next six months, the report stated, will see Chinese publishers accelerating their programs to make up for the time (and revenue) lost.