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Bologna - steady business but fewer attendees

30 March 2009

Although there were fears that the Bologna Children's Book FairThe Bologna Children's Book Fair or La fiera del libro per ragazzi is the leading professional fair for children's books in the world. was going to be less busy this year as a result of the recession, the most important annual rights fair for children's publishers seems to have been business as usual. There were fewer delegates from some parts of the world, particularly the United States (notably neither Random House Inc nor Puffin US sent delegates), but there were still plenty of deals being made at the 46th Fair.

The Bookseller reported that Oxford University Press's rights manager for the educational division, Philippa Payne, said: 'We are literally back-to-back with meetings, if not more than ever. Everyone seems to be being a little bit more selective. The fact that publishers are being more selective is no bad thing. It forces them to be more selective after the fair.'

Payne said that this could mean deals are sewn up more quickly after Bologna. But she added the lighter US turnout might provide difficulties for some publishers. 'The US contingent is really small this year but luckily we have travelled a lot during the year and are going to BEABookExpo America, commonly referred to within the book publishing industry as BEA. The largest annual book trade fair in the United States (Book Expo in New York), so this cushions us.'

Publishers are being cautious about picture books and tend to have only a small list of big names or really outstanding newcomers. Novelty books have suffered from higher production prices. Fiction, especially for older children and teenagers, has been more in demand.

Rights and co-edition sales have been focused on Europe, rather than the US, and relatively new markets such as Slovenia and Brazil. Cally Poplak, Director of Egmont Press in the UK, said that TV and film companies were still spending and were particularly interested in family-orientated stories.

New figures from the US suggest that the children's market is holding up well, but cynics might note that this is only because it includes teenage novels, particularly what is now being termed 'bite-lit' - vampire novels. A lot of this is down to Stephenie Meyer and last year, as the final volume in her Twilight series was published (six million copies sold) and the Twilight film was released (US domestic box office: $191 million), Little, Brown sold a massive 27.5 million copies of her four vampire novels.

The third volume in Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle, Brisingr, sold 2.6 million copies (the series sold 3.2 million in total last year) and, although it was not a new Harry Potter novel, J.K. Rowling's collection of Beedle the Bard tales sold 3.5 million copies.

These figures show that there is still a lot of money being made out of children's books, but that the market is reaching for big names and is cautious about areas such as picture books and novelties, where builidng up the international co-edition is a necessity.

There is a view amongst publishers that adults who have to economise on books because money is tight will nonetheless prioritise the purchase of books for their children. Many parents see books as educational and have become convinced of the undoubted educational advantages to their children of developing the reading habit. Many writers are focusing on the children's market, a challenging and demanding one but one which may deliver great rewards to successful writers. We shall shortly be offering excerpts from a new book on writing for children on the site.