I don’t know how you feel about spending the day listening to people read speeches. I went to a college with no lecture classes, and I am not sure I’ve ever attended a lecture class.No, that’s not true. I went to physics lectures at Harvard Summer School. And they were more fun than the Beijing International Publishing Forum. The worst part was that the bag I got at registration contained a binder with the text of all the speeches, in Chinese, English, and in one case Russian. So I could read the whole day in advance.
There was a big crowd, as you can see (I was sitting about 1/3 of the way back), almost all Chinese. The blond woman in the middle is Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins, who looked and sounded extremely American. Gracious and flattering, as was appropriate at an event that was more about politics and diplomacy than publishing. Double-click for a larger view.
There are several key takeaways (as they say in the conference business):
- New technologies are changing the publishing business and we all need to adapt
Young people don’t read books as much as their parents
Western publishers are dying to sell more in China
Chinese publishers, and the government, are chagrined at how few Chinese books are published elsewhere (the balance of trade in publishing is very much in favor of the English and other Western language companies)
At Berkshire, we’re doing Guanxi: The China Letter, and because our emphasis with is helping Westerners understand China, the Book Fair is going to be very interesting indeed. I read a couple of articles in conference handouts about how China wants the rest of the world to gain better understanding and knowledge about it. That’s our goal, and I think we can cooperate in interesting ways.
The trouble is that political sensitivities affect what is put in print, and there’s a kind of didacticism that seems to be part of the publishing culture (judging from catalog descriptions of books), may make Chinese texts rather hard to sell outside the country. But I read, too, that Chinese publishers are increasingly aware that they need to take our needs, wants, and expectations into account when planning their book programs, if they are to be successful in selling foreign rights.