Along with a few other independent booksellers and librarians, Karl Pohrt—owner of the amazing Shaman Drum Bookshop in China for the Beijing Book Fair, where he’ll be giving this speech on independent bookselling in America.
January 9, 2008
“We can learn what we did not know.”—Mao Zedong
This morning our delegation attended the Beijing Book Fair, which wasn’t all that different from the American Book Expo except that just about everybody was Chinese and all the books were written in Chinese. And the subject categories on the main floor leaned heavily toward the technical, engineering and medical fields. We were split into small groups when we got there, and I walked through the exhibition halls with Sarah McNally and Allison Hill. Kong Deyun was our guide and translator. The place was packed with visitors and publishers.
After a banquet-style lunch we visited the Beijing Baiwanzhuang Book Building and were ushered into a room on the lower level for a meeting with the General Manager. Baiwanzhuang runs both a large publishing company and this big four level bookstore. One third of the books they publish are textbooks and two thirds are trade books for sale to the general public. We were told they buy many international titles and translate them. They also sell the rights to Chinese books on the foreign market. How this all works is slightly fuzzy to me, and I still don’t entirely understand the business model.
I purchased a book that beautifully reproduces the calligraphy of four poems by the great Song Dynasty poet Su Shi.
In the late afternoon, we soldiered on to our next stop, the offices of the Jieli Publishing House, a relatively new company that specializes in children’s literature. The owner of the firm, Mr. Baibing, (who looks a bit like Al Pacino) tells us they publish books “for babies and on up to the time when people are old enough to fall in love!” His laugh is infectious.
Mr. Baibing tells us that children’s books currently represent 7% of the market share in China. He says children’s books account for 20% of books sold in the United States and Europe, so his company expects to grow considerably as the Chinese market matures.
The Jieli Publishing House has made a small fortune on Naughty Boy Called Mu Shautiao, a series of books for elementary school children. There are eighty titles in the series and they’ve published 14 million copies of these books so far. Mr. Baibing tells us they’ve sold 13 million copies of Naughty Boy in China. If you are curious about Naughty Boy, you’ll get a chance this spring when HarperCollins publishes them for an American audience.
By the time we move on to the excellent banquet the Jieli folks throw for us, we’re all exhausted. Allison asks the Jieli Marketing Director, “What did Naughty Boy do to earn his title?” Huang Xinping has difficulty translating this question, so Allison rephrases it: “What’s naughty about Naughty Boy?” Some tasteless jokes are made, but we’re all giddy from jet lag, lack of sleep and too much alcohol. I suggest they print up Naughty Boy buttons, which just might catch on with the older crowd, etc.
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