Children's book publishing retains strength through channel reform

By Sun Jue
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Publishing & Media Journal, March 8, 2019
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Nowadays, the scale and quality of children's book market in China have developed by leaps and bounds. There are many super-bestsellers by local famous writers such as Yang Hongying, Cao Wenxuan and Shen Shixi, and many foreign classic children's books have been sold in the market as well, which have produced a great impact. Many children's books have sold billions of yuan, such as Mixiaoquan Goes to School, Naughty Boy Xiaotiao Ma and Peppa Pig. 

Thanks to the science fiction craze driven by The Three-Body Problem series, children's literary works in recent years have paid more attention to the national history and social reality, and provided abundant publishing resources and creative power for Chinese children's literature. 

In addition, original picture books and children's poetry have become the highlights of the market with the former achieving explosive growth in the past three years which accounts for 18.72% of the children's book market. Their subjects, binding design and contents are also increasingly enriched and refined. Children's poetry has also come out of the dilemma, creating a 3D audio-visual format combined with picture books and audio recitation. 

At the same time, many publishing houses begin to positively publish children's books adapted from children's movies and animated cartoons, as well as new children's books integrated with multimedia technology. 

Online over offline sales

Today, the proportion of online sales of children's books has matchedor or even overtaken that of offline channels. In the first three quarters of 2018, Zhejiang Juvenile & Children's Publishing House(ZJCPH) sold nearly 50% of its children's books via online channels, which could reach more than half of the year's sales revenue. Jieli Publishing House's online sales has reached 50%; Sichuan Children's Publishing House's online sales accounted for 52% in 2018, and the online sales of Electronic Industry Press Children's Branch have even accounted for 80%. 

In 2018, the market pattern of online sales of children's books is undergoing tremendous changes. The sales of children's books on the self-media public account“Mother and Child” have plummeted, leading to its profits on the decrease. Some well-known WeChat public accounts once sold tens of thousands of copies in seconds through group purchase, but now only 1,000~2,000 copies are sold online. Some publishers have chosen to switch to small and medium-sized public numbers and achieved good results. 

Since the self-media channel is caught in the discount war and the minimum price war to protect the interests of their fans, it's more difficult for them to coordinate and strike a balance.

The overall profits of publishing houses continue to decline as the discount war intensifies. Publishing houses have also thrown their main products into the discount war, thus intensifying the already fierce competition in the market.

With lower discount rate and convenient logistics distribution, the traditional book e-retailers have won the favor of more and more young parents. The proportion of their sales in the children's book market has increased year by year. 

The three traditional e-commerce enterprises, Jingdong(JD), Dangdang and Tmall, have formed a situation of tripartite confrontation whereby children's books have become the most popular category with the highest proportion of sales. However, while the three major e-commerce giants maintain a high growth rate, the discount rate and cycle of books increased significantly as well. 

For example, the 21st Century Publishing Group extended its promotional time from 2 or 3 days to 20 days on June 18,2018. Many children's book publishers are facing the dilemma of increasing discounts with no increase in revenue. The prolongation and weakness of online retailers' discount warfare and the reduction ofphysical stores' shelf space make it more difficult for publishers to get their products into the market and have to substantially increase their marketing investment.

Customized products for social commerce platform

In response to the changes in social commerce (which means using social network in the context of e-commerce transactions) platform, publishers are trying "exclusive" strategies. For example, to make use of the Tmall channel, ZJCPH has developed a distribution system through Tmall platfrom with more than 10 core shops and many cash-based shops selling its books. Through launching the promotion campaign of "Tmall 100 Book List of ZJCPH", it has selected excellent books and made a key promotion event every six months, which not only maintains the physical channels to the greatest extent, but also develops a number of suitable and best-selling titles on Tmall platform. 

It is reported that in the first three quarters of 2018, ZJCPH -Tmall Channel delivered more than 150 million copies of books, which is expected to gain 200 million yuan in the whole year.

Sichuan Juvenile & Children's Publishing House(SJCPH) mainly provides customized products for JD and Tmall, and its sales proportion via this channel has increased steadily. The head of the publisher said that in the early stage, they need all-round marketing promotion, such as off-site marketing (recommendation by celebrities, WeChat public account promotion, media publicity, etc.) and on-site promotion(price promotion, etc.) He believes that the online price war is becoming more and more fierce, forcing the shops to invest energy and costs mainly to promote their own Internet flow and exclusive products, thus, there will be more and more customized editions.

In 2018, many children's revised edrtions of publishers have revised and relaunched their original contents. For example, ZJCPH launched revised editions of Shen Shixi: the King of Animal Novels, and Yang Hongying's Naughty Boy Xiaotiao Ma, both are from famous bestselling writers. SJCPH also revised the new edition of Mixiaoqyuan Goes to School and launched it in the market by raising its price, thus gaining a firm foothold.

Dig deep additional value of social media channels

Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press pays attention to tapping the added value of social media channels. The group purchase of Tick Tock Polaris Classified Picture Book was carried out by FLTRP and Qian Er Channel, a Wechat public account. Within one month, Qian Er Channel broadcasted the picture book in the form of one volume per day. At present, the sales volume of group purchase has reached nearly 6,000 sets, earning a total sales of 1.4 million yuan.

Publishers of children's books are also actively developing open platforms as well as a more targeted channel. For example, in addition to the steady operation of conventional channels such as Tmall self-run shops and flagship stores, the 21st Century Publishing Group has also set up platforms on emerging e-commerce platforms like and 1688 to improve access rate as far as possible. 

At the same time, the publisher adjusted its business structure to meet new demand. In 2018, it divided the marketing function into the editorial offices and made marketing more meticulous by equipping each editorial office with marketing editors. Moreover, On the basis of the original channels, the publisher has developed several more systems to upgrade its core products and core customers. To enlarge the effect of Nov 11th Festival(or double eleventh) held by e-commerce platforms, the press specially sets up a team to concentrate its major efforts on "rapid attack" on the market.

Deepening on-spot marketing and integrated marketing

At the same time, the children's presses also pay more attention to strengthening the on-site marketing, and strives to improve the reading experience. For example, in 2018, the ZJCPH continued to strengthen the brand activities of "ZJCPH's Storytelling Events", which started from Hangzhou, and gradually spread to other cities throughout the country.

Anhui Juvenile&Children's Publishing House, partnered with a hundred Bookstores, launched "Peppa Pig's Happy Trip to Bookstore". In addition to reaching the aim of selecting the best among the best and jointly choosing the best products, this move also achieved good feedback from children and their parents. AJCPH has also vigorously expanded its footprint in childcare market, opening over a hundred of new mother& child stores in 2018.

Tomorrow Publishing House is also actively moving towards readers, trying to establish its own physical stores and rebuild its own platforms. Working together with all channels, it also provides product training, reader activities and other marketing services.

CITICKIDS, the children's imprint of CITIC Press Group, implements channel integrated marketing through pre-publicizing on new media platform, getting on the e-retailers' bestseller lists and enhancing reading experience at physical stores, to gradually promote their products. In January 2018, CITICKIDS released A Brief History of Humankind (Illustrated Edition) in the adult best-selling market and gained a huge flow. Since then, more than 600,000 copies have been sold through all channels.

Channel change triggers publishing reform

The most prominent influence of distribution changes on the content of children's books is the conspicuous differentiation of products distributed through various channels, i.e. the disparity of online and offline editions, and the increase of customized editions. Products sold online are more inclined to be hardcover, high-quality and set products, and, if the total pricing is high, the sales discount will be high and the commission rate is high. On the other hand, the offline channels have a strong demand for single, paperback and cheap books.

Publishers of children's books are gradually designing different formats according to different characteristics of channels. In the first half of 2018, three Chinese-language customized textbooks designed by ZJCPH for primary school users, including Seven Colored Flowers Series, were sold more than 30,000 sets at 16 million yuan at the beginning of the spring semester. In the second half of the year, the press launched the recommended reading series Happy Reading of Classical Books for Primary School Students (Grades 2-6) before the beginning of autumn semester. 123,000 sets of the two online and offline editions were sold, earning a revenue of more than 11 million yuan.

When CITICKIDS launched Uncle Kai Tells History, it also took advantage of the network flow of famous IP uncle Kai and designed a full-color set in four colors for online channel and an economical single book for traditional stores, thus realizing full channel coverage and selling more than 80,000 sets in a short time. 

Launching a revised edition to meet the needs of channels is also a tactic frequently used nowadays by children's publishers. For example, CITICKIDS re-launched its French Super Scope Series in 2016 to tap the selling potential, and integrated marketing of new media players and e-retailers to attract more online viewers. On April 23, 2018, the day of World Book Day, 2500 sets and 140,000 copies were sold on. Subsequently, 20,000 more sets were printed, totaling 1.12 million copies.

Diversified demand from various channels, especially the social media and emerging e-commerce channels, is also affecting the rights business of children's books. Publishers need to develop supporting resources by further acquiring more diversified copyrights, such as the rights for story adaptation, broadcasting of lectures and other franchise.

Furthermore, children's presses have begun to introduce a series of incentive policies to arouse editors' enthusiasm, promote their participation in the whole process of planning, publishing, marketing and sales, and improve their way of thinking from the perspective of readers. Not only should the topic selection and planning be closer to the needs of readers and channels, but the product format, marketing plan and promotion scenarios should be more in line with the readers' way of thinking. 

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