Here are the top trends that overseas exhibitors reported seeing at the Shanghai International Children's Book Fair and for the Chinese book market in general.

1. Augmented reality (AR).

Publisher and CEO Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks, who talked about AR books (with Dragon Brothers trilogy as an example) at one of the CCBF conference tracks, discovered that Chinese publishers have been trying out a lot of AR (as well as virtual reality), much more than is done in the U.S. “Ideas and suggestions about what customers would respond to in terms of AR were aplenty during the panel, and the whole session, in addition to what I see at this fair, points to ample opportunities for AR in China, especially given the apparent interest in innovation and technology in publishing, and in further enhancing the reading experience.”

Digital products were common at the CCBF.

2. Talking Pen.

Interestingly enough, despite the talks about innovation and technology in publishing, Talking Pen has experienced continued growth in adoption over the years. “We had a deal involving Talking Pen back in 2011, and we thought it would die off soon after the arrival of newer technologies like tablets and mobile phones with great audio capabilities. So, yes, we are indeed surprised by its popularity and adoption, especially in English language learning,” said Michael Davis, managing director for Asia at Highlights, adding that the longevity of Talking Pen is most probably due to its simplicity and user-friendliness as a tool that combines print and technology.

3. Educational elements and values.

There is no getting away from the importance of education in China, especially in a country where nearly 65% of its book market is made up of textbooks and educational materials. The emphasis on academic achievement has been extended to different types of books for children. Overseas exhibitors at CCBF all reported that Chinese publishers specifically asked for titles that contain educational elements and values.

4. Sibling-related titles.

With China’s two-child policy coming into play, there is now a demand in the market for titles about having a sibling in the family. Picture books, for instance, should have illustrations of two kids in a household, and that bring us to the next trend.

5. Social and emotional learning, and moral values.

A two-child household is also about dealing with emotions, behaviors, manners, bullying, sharing and friendship. Sibling rivalry needs to be addressed, and positive attitudes have to be enforced. For Chinese publishers and parents, titles promoting positive social and emotional skills, and good values, are crucial in preparing children, from an early age, to cope with life challenges and societal changes.

One of the book fair's many dedicated play areas.

6. Diversity for global perspectives.

“The appetite for children’s titles is much more sophisticated in Shanghai compared to Beijing. Parents here want books depicting different cultures to offer their kids a global outlook,” said Polly Powell, owner and publisher of U.K.-based Pavilion Books. In other words, local publishers are now looking into not just bestsellers and quality content from the U.S., U.K., or Europe, but also from neighboring Asian countries and smaller markets around the globe. Diversity in title and topic is a growing demand.

7. Bilingual editions.

Whether it is English-Chinese, or French-Chinese, local publishers are offering children the opportunity to learn another language while cultivating their reading habit and improving their Chinese language skills. Rights manager Kavi Meswania of Hachette Children’s Group (UK), for instance, has seen increased number of deals for bilingual English-Chinese rights for his titles in recent years.

8. Social media marketing.
Given China’s complex book distribution network, which is further complicated by the vastness of the country, publishers are now busy partnering with e-commerce platforms to market books through social media messaging. The platforms, functioning as book clubs by mothers, or topic-specific groups, use the free WeChat messaging app to send out recommended book lists, promote selected titles and related materials, offer discounts etc, to its network members. This new marketing and distribution channel is becoming more popular and proven to be effective to driving up sales and reaching a wider audience.