By Stephen Mooser, President, SCBWI
Every two years the SCBWI sponsors a booth at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. The Fair is arguably the premier annual venue in the world for the exhibition of children’s books and the sale of foreign rights to thousands of those books. This year it featured nearly 1,300 booths including a newly-expanded, separate wing devoted to digital publishing. The SCBWI has had a presence there since 2003, and this year our booth doubled in size, enabling us to showcase member’s books along with information on their rights offerings. Additionally, our online Bologna Illustration Gallery offered an opportunity for illustrator members to showcase their art. Events at our booth attracted heavy traffic, and four books in the exhibit made foreign rights sales, and most likely a number of artists picked up assignments as well. For our next booth, in 2018, we are looking into the possibility of hiring a freelance sales person so that we can more aggressively promote our members books to the rights buyers at the fair.
This year I (Stephen Mooser, SCBWI President) represented the main office at the Fair.
Here is what I learned:
*The Chinese market is going to dominate rights sales for some years to come. With the ending of the one child policy new births per year in the country will grow by up to an additional 8 million. The China booths were all doing brisk business, in particular snapping up rights to titles with an educational component. One publisher I interviewed said he would not be exhibiting at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair this year because they had already bought every one of his titles. One statistic that seemed to sum up the opportunities in this market was that there are 15,000 titles currently on the market there, and on the list of the 100 bestsellers thirty-two were by foreign authors.
*Illustrators are in demand. Many of the publisher booths were offering free snap portfolio critiques to long lines of portfolio toting artists. One hand written sign outside of a booth summed it all up: TALENTED ILLUSTRATORS WANTED. SCBWI Illustrators should send up a giant cheer to Chris Cheng, author and SCBWI Board Co-Chair, who spent hours visiting publisher booths to alert them to our online Digital Art Catalogue and our Website Illustrator Gallery. Many of the publishers, he said, were not previously aware of the galleries, but were excited to learn of this rich resource.
*Digital books for children are still in their infancy and many start-ups seem to be struggling. The addition of a room devoted to the digital market was hailed as a recognition of this new player in the market, but I could only count a little over 30 exhibitors and half of them appeared to be start-ups looking for a buyer. Some exhibitors had products featuring Augmented (3D) Reality, but even though Google had a large booth I didn’t see anything about Virtual Reality, which they had been promoting in schools with their Google Cardboard. Most digital programs seemed to be simple computer and I pad displays teaching basic skills, which is nothing new. Of interest were a number of companies offering authors the ability to easily turn their work, or out of print books, into interactive apps at a reasonable price. Even at lower costs however authors have had a hard time generating revenue from an app. If you want to look into this option two of the more interesting companies I visited were QTales (www.qtales.com) and Kids App Maker (www.kidsappmaker.com).
*Picture books seemed to dominate many of the publisher booths. As always it was the unique and innovative offering that garnered the most attention. There was a lot of middle grade as well, particularly anything that had universal interest and could easily cross borders and cultures. As an example, Diary of a Wimpy Kid not only is the best-selling series in the US, It is also number one in Italy, and second in the UK.
*The Bologna Exhibition Gallery showcased selected children’s book illustration from scores of countries. Always a mixed bag of styles this year’s presentation was no different. If you were to look at past exhibits you could clearly see how what may have seemed unusual or even weird at the time became mainstream a decade later. To see the art at this year’s exhibit google Bologna Illustrators Exhibition.
The SCBWI will be back at Bologna again in 2018. Building on the success of this year’s book and illustration rights offering we plan to even more aggressively market the work of the SCBWI membership.
And special thanks to everyone who made our booth such a success, including those who manned the tables from our many regions, the artists who participated in our popular Dueling Illustrators events, our International Team headed by Kathleen Ahrens, and to Chris Cheng Bologna Coordinator and to Susan Eaddy who designed the booth along with Sarah Baker.