A turn up for the books - The 30th National Book Expo
Source: China Daily | 2021-09-06

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The expo commemorates 100 years of the Communist Party of China with an exhibition of related publications, activities and book launches. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Book fairs have an air of excitement. New works vie for attention, writers-both established and hopeful-discuss their offerings, and readers itch to get their hands on particular tomes. All this creates a buzz, an atmosphere of, dare it be said, great expectations.

All of this was true at this year's National Book Expo in Jinan, Shandong province, with one exception. This time the voices of a group previously unheard of at book fairs-livestreaming hosts-became a key element of the cacophony.

Visitors walking the aisles of the exhibition halls would fail to miss livestreamers standing in front of LED ring lights and several phones, talking about books with both patience and vigor.

They promoted the books for hours at a time and hardly ever left the cameras, except for a short lunch break, when they asked their assistants to cover for them, before they wolfed down their food and went back to work.

The 30th edition of the expo, from July 15 to 19, drew more than 1,600 publishing organizations, and many opted for livestreaming to promote their books and events.

While some bigger organizations set up their own broadcast booth and livestreamed their campaigns, the smaller ones worked with social media influencers to boost sales.

The booth of a Beijing-based publishing company Jingyiboyuan was a particularly busy attraction, with several livestreaming hosts promoting books on their own social media platforms at the same time.

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A VR version of the expo allows book lovers around the country to take a glimpse of the exhibition center from their own homes. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The company has worked with social media influencers for a year, mostly for their in-house children's book brand "Little Red Sail".

"Livestreaming is more often used to promote children's books, because these books have a wider customer base. Anyone with a child in the household, parents and grandparents for example, will consider buying the books," He Bin, the company's sales representative, says.

The company first started adopting a livestreaming model, he says, because they noticed a trend of launching online campaigns on video streaming platforms. Aside from cooperating with livestreaming hosts that boast more than a million followers, the company also created their own social media accounts.

According to He, the company's annual turnover has increased from 60 million yuan ($9 million) in 2019 to 150 million yuan in 2020, and livestreaming sales accounted for about 20 to 30 percent of the increase.

Selling books on livestreaming platforms is no longer unusual in the Chinese market. One iconic example is livestreaming host Wei Ya, a top salesperson on online shopping platform Taobao, who can easily sell 30,000 copies of a book within seconds.

According to a report on the Chinese book retail market, released by Beijing-based industry research company OpenBook at the expo, in the first half of 2021 children's books accounted for 58.54 percent of all book sales on short video and livestreaming platforms.

Apart from the ubiquitous presence of livestreaming, the expo's organizing committee also employed technology to promote the event and enhance visitor experience.

This year marks the first time that there has been an online version of the expo. Its unique virtual reality venue allows book lovers around the country to "attend" from the comfort of their own homes.

By simply clicking on the expo's official website, users will be presented with a link to the VR venue, which shows an animated version of the overall exhibition center.

All eight exhibition halls, each with a different theme, are listed, and users can choose where they wish to "walk around" and browse the booths in detail.

Publishers' names are displayed on the virtual booths, which also provide information about the company and the books that it showcased at this year's expo.

"This year is the first time we have added this online VR venue feature. This is, in fact, a response to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has raised the bar for expo organizers," says Yang Yang, head of the online expo team.

Yang says that the team started building the online venue in May, requesting each of the publishing houses to provide the layout of their booths and the books they intended to present at the expo.

Because many of the smaller publishers did not have the funds or technology to create their own VR booths, the team shot immersive 360-degree videos throughout the exhibition center after the installation was completed.

The online expo also features an official website and a WeChat account, where users can browse, preview and purchase more than 5,800 types of books from over 430 publishing houses around the country.

The website also details the diverse range of events that took place during the expo, and major events are available for online viewing.

This year's expo set records in terms of size and quantity.

With a main venue in Jinan's Shandong International Convention and Exhibition Center and two subvenues in Yantai and Tai'an, the expo covered a total area of 100,000 square meters and exhibited over 400,000 products, from publications to cultural merchandise.

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A livestreaming host introduces books at the booth of a publishing company during the recent National Book Expo in Jinan, Shandong province. [Photo by Cheng Yuezhu/China Daily]

Hosted jointly by the National Press and Publication Administration, Shandong provincial government and Jinan municipal government, this year's expo pays homage to the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China with an exhibition of publications and book launches themed around the history of the CPC.

It also featured more than 600 events including a readers' conference, an annual award ceremony for the "top 10 readers", panel discussions with literary experts, and a reading festival for children.

Admission was free to all exhibition halls and events, and up to 5 million yuan of book vouchers were also available for visitors to take advantage of.

Shandong Xinhua Bookstore Group developed a platform for this year's expo, which not only allowed the visitors to claim the vouchers and pay for their books, but enabled the publishing companies to track their inventory and sales volume in real time.

"This platform has saved a lot of manpower and resources for this year's expo, and ensured a good experience for both the visitors and the exhibitors," says Ma Xuejun, general manager of the Jinan branch of the group.

According to the expo's official statistics, this year's event posted a record high in terms of book sales. During the five days, the expo registered more than 600,000 visitors, generated a retail revenue of over 26 million yuan from in-person sales, and around 150 million yuan in revenue from livestreaming activities.