Beijing 2012: building on the London legacy
Emma House reports from the Beijing Book Fair.This year sees the big once-every-decade reshuffle in the leadership of the PRC and one of the swan songs of the retiring Minister of the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) - Minister Liu Binjie was to oversee the Market Focus programme of China at this year's London Book Fair. The Chinese and British publishing communities gathered once again at the 19th annual Beijing International Book Fair, which (according to organisers CNPIEC) this year saw 2,000 exhibitors from 75 countries meeting customers to make major deal announcements (again, according to CNPIEC, 3,298 copyright agreements were signed), forge relationships and get up to speed on what is happening in the Chinese book market.
Digital developments in global publishing were the main focus of Minister Liu Binjie's speech at the regular International Publishing Forum, which took place the day before the opening of the Book Fair. As well as summing up what has happened in the UK, US and Japan over the last year, the Minister gave an overview of developments in China's digital publishing market. Mind-boggling statistics included the number of China's netizens, keen internet users also referred to as cybercitizens, which at the end of 2011 totalled 536 million, including 356 million mobile internet users. E-readers, smartphones and tablets have proven to be popular gadgets in China and e-publishing has generated a total income of 137.788 billion RMB - up 31% on last year (including newspapers and magazines). Yet challenges still remain, particularly in the areas of skills, standards and lack of R&D and innovation in certain areas such as core technologies.
Internet bookselling is clearly on the up in China, with an unusual situation for Amazon, which is facing competition from two other major online retailers: Dang Dang and 360 Buy.com. They were all present at the Fair to meet with publishers. Key challenges in doing business with China remain in the online space of physical bookselling (as with the physical bookshops), with the retailers unable to deal directly with publishers, but with the additional step of solely working with approved importers. The emergence of online bookselling has, however, not deterred bookselling in the physical sense. Publishers are eagerly awaiting the launch of a brand new Page One bookstore (owned by Singaporean Mark Tan) in the Sanlitun area of Beijing, which will be open 24/7 and bring the total number of Page One Bookstores in China to four. This is additionally good news following the closure of their flagship store in Singapore in January of this year due to rising price of rents.
Copyright was centre-stage at the Fair, with an additional Forum organised by CNPIEC and sponsored by the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC). The Beijing International Copyright Trade Symposium was opened by GAPP Vice–Minister YAN Xiaohong, who referred to both the copyright amendments currently under review in China and the need to treat online copyright infringers harshly; a welcome statement from the overseas rights-holders in the room. The symposium had a mix of Chinese nationals speaking as well as the PA CEO Richard Mollet, Random House International Director Simon Littlewood, Penguin China General Manager Jo Lusby, and Copyright Clearance Centre (USA) Manager Matt Pedersen, each of whom spoke on different perspectives of copyright, notably copyright in the digital age, to an engaged and interactive audience of Chinese publishers.
Deals and announcements continued following the London Book Fair, which saw a raft of translation rights and co-publishing deals, the announcement of the Macmillan Joint Venture with 21st Century Publishing house for children's books, and the unveiling of UK offices for both China Education Group and Phoenix Publishing and Media Group. Both groups are expected to be fully operational early next year. At BIBF, Penguin China signed a deal with SDX (Sanlian) Joint Publishing Co which will be a rolling co-publishing programme for the Penguin Lives series of books. The first list will be published in December, a second in March 2013. Penguin also took activities off-site with the opening of its Penguin by Design Exhibition at the Temple Hotel; it was attended by VIPs - the great and good from China's music, fashion, art, film, literary, journalistic, and intellectual circles - at a private viewing before the public opening on 1 September. Elsevier and Cengage also had a raft of signings - Cengage with China International Publishing Group, Xinhua Winshare Group and Changjiang Publishing Group, and Elsevier with Shanghai Jiaotong University Press.
Korea featured as this year's Guest of Honour in celebration of 20 years of diplomatic ties between China and Korea. This saw a pavilion which played host to 72 exhibitors and a cultural space under the theme Hangeul, the Korean Alphabet. The official opening was attended by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, and a number of professional and literary events took place both inside and outside the Book Fair.
The week could not have been complete without the PA annual BIBF reception (sponsored by LBF and UK Trade & Investment), hosted for the second year running at the British Ambassador's residence. Over 150 people from the British and Chinese publishing communities gathered, and speeches were heard from the Ambassador himself, HE Sebastian Wood, GAPP Vice-Minister WU Shulin (who is due to retire along with Minister LIU Binjie), LBF Director Alistair Burtenshaw, and Richard Mollet.
BIBF remains a key date in the global publishing calendar, and we look forward to next year's event and seeing how the new GAPP Minister will take the publishing agenda forward in China.
Emma House is Trade and International Director of the Publishers Association
Photos, from top: John Makinson and Jo Lusby with Chinese rock star Cui Jian (in white cap) and film director Li Yang; Cengage signing an MOU with China International Publishing Group; the British Ambassador's reception, left to right, Alistair Burtenshaw, Wu Shulin, Sebastian Wood, Richard Mollet and Emma House