Last year, Gao Linze, a 16-year-old high school student, was the final visitor at the Shanghai Book Fair (SBF). This year, when the fair held its 17th edition at the Shanghai Exhibition Center from August 12 to 18, he was invited to be the first visitor and his arrival at 9 a.m. kicked off the event.
Like last year, Gao headed for the international publishers and bought three English novels at the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) stall. He told Huang Wei, Director General of CIPG's general editorial office, it was his sixth consecutive year at the fair, which he has been attending since he was a primary school student.
From its inception in 2004, SBF has developed from a regional event into a national cultural activity. Shanghai has a rich reading culture, where reading is regarded as a part of quality life, Huang told Beijing Review. Though SBF is held in August, when the temperature shoots up and typhoons disrupt life, people have never stopped flocking to the fair, Huang said. "As a publisher, I am inspired."
A scene at the book fair (COURTESY PHOTO)
A test for publishers
Many major international book fairs were either canceled or postponed this year because of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). But due to the successful epidemic prevention and control in China, the Shanghai Books and Periodicals Distribution Association, the organizer of the fair, went ahead with their schedule, guided by the municipal administration of press and publications. The 17th edition saw over 1,000 events and 100,000 titles on display, including 700 new ones.
Xu Jiong, head of Shanghai Press and Publication Administration, told People's Daily the fair was "a test for us to recover social and economic development amid the epidemic." It is also the responsibility of publishers to contribute to recovery.
The exhibition area was expanded to 26,000 square meters, nearly 11 percent larger than the previous editions, to ensure there was no crowding. The registration system limited the number of daily visitors to 18,000 and they had to book tickets online as ticket sale at the venue was canceled. Though the number of visitors was one third of that last year, sales data showed their average buys increased by about 23 percent, Xu said.
"I was not worried about COVID-19 because the book fair had taken extensive precautions," Lu Wenqi, a 19-year-old, told Beijing Review. Lu said the restricted number of people made the experience of visiting the fair and browsing in the stalls better than before.
In addition to the regular procedures such as checking the temperature of visitors and their health code and ensuring masks were worn inside, between daytime and nighttime operation, the venue was disinfected thoroughly.
Zhou Huilin (center right), head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Shanghai Municipal Committee, and Lu Cairong (center left), Vice President of China International Publishing Group (CIPG), unveil the exhibition booth at the 2020 Shanghai Book Fair displaying the third volume of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, on August 12 (COURTESY PHOTO)
It was CIPG's third year at the fair with its seven affiliated publishing houses attending. "CIPG is an institution targeting foreign markets but we thought domestic buyers would also like some of our books targeting foreign markets," Huang said.
The 300-square-meter CIPG stall exhibited over 5,800 titles in 30 languages covering traditional Chinese culture, historical photo collections, foreign language learning and original imported books.
In its children's section, there were many children reading the books on display. People's enthusiasm has not been affected by the epidemic, Huang said, calling the fair attendance a meaningful family activity during the school holiday in summer.
The newly launched third volume of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China had pride of place in the stall. Published in June by Foreign Languages Press, it is a collection of speeches, conversations, instructions and letters by President Xi Jinping between October 18, 2017 and January 13, 2020. The book provides Xi's recent thoughts on national governance and is regarded as a window to learn about the governance of China in the new era. Both the Chinese and English editions were on display.
The CIPG titles were chosen also with an eye to highlighting the all-out efforts people in China made to fight COVID-19. The publishing house brought out more than 20 titles to demonstrate the public resilience and undaunted spirit, such as Stories of Courage and Determination: Wuhan Coronavirus Lockdown. They also included five cartoon series, titled The Pathogen Beside Us, for children to learn about disease prevention.
One book, China, We Got Your Back, published by New Star Press, was the narrative of an Israeli with deep ties with China who collected medical supplies in Israel to support Hubei Province in central China, which was the hardest hit by the virus.
Xu said the books on foreign assistance for China reflected mutual trust between foreigners and the Chinese and their working together with other countries to combat the virus.
The latest version of Cihai by Shanghai Century Publishing (Group) Co., an authoritative encyclopedic dictionary of Mandarin, was released at the fair on August 12. Through the efforts of hundreds of experts, over 70 percent of the earlier version with 130,000 entries has been revised. On the same day, the e-dictionary was also trial-launched.
In addition, the group's offerings included Stories of Shanghai Architecture, introducing Shanghai's local culture and history. It is a vivid interpretation of Shanghai's landmarks to guide walks in the city.
Yang Qinghua, Assistant Director of Hangzhou Publishing Group, told China Global Television Network, "Books on tourism are in high demand. I think people can't wait to travel as the pandemic wanes."
Due to the epidemic, e-books and audiobooks have become many readers' new preferences. Dragonfly FM, a mobile audio content app, has developed an audio program for readers.
Gao Linze, the first visitor to the book fair, at the CIPG stall (COURTESY PHOTO)
Rethinking book fairs
"We are thinking about improving the book fair along with changes in people's reading habits," Xu said. "If people prefer e-books, why do they still need book fairs? How can we cope with the difficulties caused by changes in the reading media and sales and consumption patterns?"
Therefore, this year's SBF underwent transformation, transcending the traditional book fair framework. For instance, it had an online platform that was a guide to its events, with live-streaming. People could virtually watch book launches, writers' and scholars' forums, and other activities without visiting the pavilions in person.
In addition, the fair built a "friends' circle" by involving new media and Internet culture platforms to conduct reading projects through offline and online channels.
One novel instance was the Writers' Gourmet Menu. Combining reading with Chinese cuisine, it invited writers to talk about various topics such as gourmet food and lifestyle, culture, science fiction, detective stories and fashion with guests at seven local restaurants. Organized by Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House and local tourism marketing service provider Destination Partner, the project is a collaboration with the city's culture and tourism authority to design author-themed menus and a list of select food-related books.
A young reader at the 2020 Shanghai Book Fair on August 12 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Xu said reading, a part of daily life, can be integrated with other contents of life, becoming an innovative activity that can promote reading to a larger group and benefit more people.
"Despite the pandemic, the Internet played a significant role in uniting bookworms across the world to heed the cultural carnival in Shanghai," Sun Ganlu, Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Writers' Association and also the initiator of the event, told China.org.cn.
SBF also included 100 sub-venues in 16 districts of the city, such as renowned bookstores, district libraries and book clubs. It collaborated with shopping centers for the first time to promote a business circle with an "entering the community" campaign to help the book industry and affiliated businesses get back on their feet.
Lu Cairong speaks at a session on 40 on 40, a new book focusing on China-U.S. diplomacy published by CIPG's New World Press, at the 2020 Shanghai Book Fair on August 12 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Book sales at domestic brick-and-mortar stores in the first half of the year reached 4.03 billion yuan ($583 million), dropping by over 30 percent compared with the same period last year due to the epidemic, according to a report by publishing data platform Centrin Data, released during the book fair. It collected data from over 6,500 bookstores and over 3,400 online stores in China.
The report included more sales channels than before, taking into account offline and online retail, and group and library purchases, Zhu Ying, Vice President of Centrin Data, said at a conference on innovative bookstores at the book fair on August 13. However, resumption of production is alleviating the trend, restoring bookstores' and publishers' confidence, he added.
Visitors check out cultural products at the book fair (COURTESY PHOTO)
In recent years, offline bookstores have been exploring diverse methods to survive. Liu Hang, President of Shanghai Xinhua Media, said they are working with Lianjia, the largest real estate brokerage firm in China, to build public libraries in cities. They will also revamp the layout of Xinhua bookstores in Shanghai, and add children's bookstores and specialty shops in universities and heritage towns.
Bookstore chain Popular Bookmall has made a profit by acquiring a literary website and participating in network drama production. Miao Bingwen, its founder, said, "We believe that reading on the social media platform will grow into a popular trend."
Tang Daiwei, chairman of a private book distribution company in Shaanxi Province, northwest China, said brick-and-mortar bookstores have always been at the end of the industrial chain, serving publishing houses. "Although we know users' needs and the market, those advantages have not been transformed into productivity," he said. Bookstores should embrace advanced technology to improve their services and integrate with culture, education, science and technology application and other industries, he added.
(Print Edition Title: Opening a New Chapter)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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