The Children’s Book market in China: statistics and translation challenges

Did you know that in China, over the past ten years, the entire books market has grown by 19% each year? The sector recorded growth of 14.55% in 2018, thanks in particular to the dynamism of children’s books. 

China is a major buyer of foreign literature. However, some books are very successful in their country of origin, but may not ‘export well’, in other words, they may not be well-adapted to suit other cultures or contexts. This is one of the main reasons we would like to bring to your attention the reading trends in China and show how to translate your book in order for it to be successful when launching it in the Middle Kingdom.

What are the major reading trends in China?

Given the size of the country, everything comes in large proportions. There are 220 million young readers under the age of 14 in China. Between 2016 and 2017, children’s book sales rose by more than 20% and now account for about a quarter of all books sold in the country. 

In 2018, there were 30 million additional Chinese readers, mainly those born in the 1990s and 2000s, buying an average of 5 printed books every year, more than in any other country in the world.

Of course, most of them turn much more to digital books than their elders. Indeed, 46% of digital book readers were born in the 1990s. Book sales are mainly made online (+28.82% in 2017), however bookstore sales have also increased by 2.33%.

The genres favored by this category remain mainly fiction and best-sellers for digital reading. Children’s literature, on the other hand, favours print.

Ren Dianshun, editor-in-chief of China Publishers Magazine reports that 22,834 new children’s books were published in China last year, and 19,607 titles were reprinted. Sales reached 17.55 billion Yuan (US$2.5 billion) in 2017, up from 3.9 billion Yuan (US$561 million) in 2008.

China remains a major buyer of foreign books. 21.68% of the books in the Chinese market are translations or imports, mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom. Of all categories of books, children’s books occupy first place.

In China, children’s literature is more prevalent in independent bookstores than in online bookshops (54.07% versus 30.38%). It’s the only type of book with this trend. 

children's book translation

Yan Ji You Bookstore in Chengdu

children's book translation

Zhongshuge Bookstore in Hangzhou

children's book translation

Zhongshuge Bookstore in Hangzhou

Another aspect that comes into play in all countries, is that families find that today new technologies are not always a good thing for young minds. Parents refuse to let their children get caught up with screens and prefer to buy printed books. That’s why the book industry is currently doing just as well in China.

There are currently six foreign titles listed in the top-10 best sellers list on Amazon’s Chinese-language website. Thus, children’s books from Western countries have a sizeable share, and the translation phase should therefore always be considered.

What are the important points to take into account when organizing a children’s book translation in China?

Most of the time, a book gets noticed because of its success in its country of origin, so it doesn’t require much advertising. But don’t get too greedy when looking at the significant potential of target customers! 

Before thinking about Children’s book translation, understanding your customer is key

It is important to use right marketing channels and to analyze the exporting country’s common marketing methods in order to be sure to successfully integrate into the Chinese market.  

It may be useful to observe the trends of competitor’s books and analyse readers in the markets where your book is performing well. Also, keeping a track of the comments and reviews might give a better understanding of readers’ preferences, expectations and behaviour. 

Children’s book translation and limitation of Western print

Even though the demand for Western books in China is quite promising, it will not stay like this for long.  Chinese authorities are continuously slowing down acceptance of foreign literature, and limiting the numbers of book imports.

Western publishers are attracted to the Chinese market: its population is largely literate; it is in high demand for literature from abroad, but only the best are making the cut. However, soon there could be almost no chance of being published in China, if the book is not a super best seller.

How to get a book published in a foreign country

There are two solutions for someone looking to export their book abroad. Work as a self-publisher, or work with a publishing house to launch the book in China. The second option is more frequent and easiest for the author. 

In the second scenario, the publisher of the country of origin chooses a foreign publishing house (in this situation, a Chinese one). Then the home publishing house will create a partnership contract that will frame the commercial relationship with the house of the destination country. The author and the two publishing houses will then jointly resolve any copyright issues. 

It is common for a best-seller to have no particular success once it has been translated and published elsewhere. Therefore, it is essential that the work is properly translated. Choosing the translator is a major step because it will guarantee the quality of the expression of the best-selling ideas for the Chinese public. It is for this reason that going through a professional certified translation company would be an ideal solution to avoid distorting the artist’s message. 

Children’s book translation key points

More than just one single professional translator, the translation agency can provide group expertise, composed of several experts working on the same project. This type of service offers significant time savings and allows people to benefit from the expertise and advice of several people, thus bringing more objectivity to children’s book translation and to the meaning expressed in certain passages.

In conclusion, the translation of a book is more than just a simple transition from one language to another. It takes time, research and effort to respect the author’s style and understand the market you are entering, especially when it is aimed at a young audience.

Contact HI-COM, if you want to launch your book in China and are looking for a reliable translation partner. Our team is always available for a consultation, a free quote, and expert advice!

Kate CHERNAVINAThe Children’s Book market in China: statistics and translation challenges

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