Reading the future

By Mei Jia and Xing Yi(China Daily)
Updated: 2017-02-03 07:32:40

School children attend the recently-concluded 30th Beijing Book Fair with newly published books. Kids' books are the fastest-growing genre and account for the largest market segment.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A recent book fair points toward emerging publishing trends. Xing Yi and Mei Jia report.

The recently concluded 30th Beijing Book Fair examined not only the recent past but also the near future.

The January fair is viewed as a compass of the domestic market in the coming year.

A highlight was the BBF Top Forum of China Press and Publishers, co-hosted by the fair's organizing committee and China Publishing & Media Journal.

Hot spots in Chinese publishing will include literature - both translated and in original Chinese, the journal's president Wu Xusheng says.

Also popular will be "chicken-noodle soup" books on psychology and life outlook. Books about science, and particularly artificial intelligence, will be big. So, too, will be kids books, especially titles dealing with art education.

More books will be integrated with augmented and virtual reality, Wu adds.

He expects last year's strong performance of calligraphy titles to extend into 2017. This reveals a potent demand for traditional-culture themes, Wu points out.

Industry monitor Openbook also released its annual report on China's 2016 market, based on data from over 3,000 bookstores and major online-retail websites.

It says the market exceeded 70 billion yuan ($10 billion), an increase of 12.3 percent year-on-year.

Online book sales contributed 36.5 billion yuan to the market, marking the first time online sales surpassed offline sales.

Openbook's report says Japanese author Keigo Higashino is the most popular fiction writer among Chinese. Three of his titles were among the 10 best-selling fiction works in the country. His book Miracles of the Namiya General Store grabbed first place.

Essayist Lung Ying-tai's book See Off topped the nonfiction best-seller list.

Major online booksellers Tmall and Dangdang also released annual reports during the BBF.

Their consensus is that children's books, literature and reference books led the pack in 2016, followed by books about science, economics and management.

Kids' books are the fastest-growing genre and account for the largest market segment. It has enjoyed a nearly 29 percent growth rate and occupies nearly a quarter of the market, Openbook reports.

Some publishers are entering the audio-book sector, which promises huge market potential but is underdeveloped compared to the United States and Britain.

"Amazon's audio books are popular among English-language readers," Cheers Publishing's vice-president, Chen Yi, says.

"They offer vast opportunities in China, given the proliferation of smartphones and fragmentation of time in urban lifestyles," Chen says.

His company has produced audio versions of five of its popular titles, including Nike founder Phil Knight's autobiography, Shoe Dog, which is recorded by five amateur runners from different professions.

Guangxi Normal University Press brand Imaginist dedicated a special section of its exhibition area to audio books.

Penguin Random House partnered with mobile-radio app Himalaya FM last month and will soon bring over 6,000 English-language audio books to China.

The BBF featured over 730 exhibitors that were presented in nearly 2,400 booths and at 200 events.

Purchases totaled 114 million yuan during the fair and follow-up sales are expected to reach 350 million yuan in February, organizing committee deputy director Liu Lixia says.

Indeed, several titles released at the event are expected to sell well.

Ethnic Mongolian Gerileqimuge Heihe appeared in traditional Mongolian attire at his latest book series' launch, where he released three novels, five novellas and short-story collections, and five young readers' books - all part of his Heihe's Son of Nature series published by China Children's Press and Publishing Group.

Heihe raises large dogs on China's Hulunbuir's grasslands. He writes about animals and the prairies of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. His latest novel is about a rare dog breed, hunting and growing up.

A foreign title expected to make waves is the kids picture book If I Were A Book published in China by Zhejiang Juvenile and Children's Publishing House.

The book written by Jose Jorge Letria and illustrated by Andre Letria tells a story about being a book and books' role in society.

Another international release expected to do well is a translation of Serbian author Milorad Pavic's Last Love in Constantinople, which mixes Byzantine tarot cards with 22 chapters about two Serbian families from 1797-1813. Shanghai Translation Publishing House did the Chinese version.

Cao Yuanyong translated the book from English with cross-references to French, German and the original Serbian.

"This is a book that basically can't be finished. You can read it from beginning to end or obey the tarot - that is, to follow your 'fate', to read whichever chapter that's determined by the cards you pick - and you'll get new stories," Cao says.

Pavic is a sensation in China for his Dictionary of the Khazars, a novel written in the form of about 100,000 encylopedia words.

Its popularity perhaps - like the BBF itself - suggests that Chinese readers increasingly appreciate novel takes on novels - and other genres.

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