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London Book Fair: 'It is the best of times, it is the worst of times' for publishing

Li Jianhua in London

 , Updated 23:28, 15-Mar-2024

If you are a book lover or seller in the UK the London Book Fair is worth considering. The annual event brings together world-class story tellers and publishers for business, networking and learning.

This year, the event has gathered over 1,000 exhibitors from across the world. Big names, including Richard Osman, Taylor Jenkins Reid and Joseph Coelho, were there in person to meet fans, publishers and potential business partners.

Wide-ranging topics were explored by industry leaders and experts, including the rise of artificial intelligence, digital audio books, the impact of BookTok and social media, copyright and geopolitical struggles.


It is estimated the global book publishing market was worth $91.39 billion in 2023, according to Wordsrated. By 2027, the market value is predicted to grow by 7.06 percent to pass $97.84 billion a year.

As global publishers vie for more market share, generative AI has become a disruptive force in the literary market. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, "it is the best of times, it is the worst of times" for the global publishing industry.


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Jeremy North, Managing Director for Books Publishing at Taylor & Francis, told CGTN Europe that we need to be careful about AI.

"I think for publishers, we've got to keep a half of our mind on the optimism - the AI can bring the creativeness, the innovation that it can bring - and half of our mind to watch out for the dangers and the things which could be a risk or threat not only to publishers, but also to authors. And also to readers because readers want quality content. They don't want fake content," said North.


China seeks more international exposure


Over 3,200 China-themed titles from about 50 Chinese publishers have been displayed at the London Book Fair this year, after international travel restrictions due to COVID-19 were lifted in January 2022 allowing more companies and authors to be there in person.

Around 30 activities were organized during the three-day event, covering topics such as Chinese culture, low-carbon, sustainable development and AI.

"Traditional Chinese culture or our unique Lingnan culture in southern China is most likely to be accepted by global readers, including Chinese medicine, Kung Fu and Cantonese food," said Chen Bin, from Southern Publishing and Media. "Chinese novels are usually difficult to sell outside China. If novels are not recreated in the process of translation, the stories are usually not that well received."

As discussions unfold on strategies to bolster China's book exports, sci-fi literature has emerged as a catalyst for change. One of the success stories of Chinese literature that has gained an international following is Liu Cixin's Three Body Problem, whose film adaptation will premiere on Netflix next week.

"I think Liu's work is so popular and so special because it really hits all the notes you want in a great science fiction story," Lisa Yaszek, Regents Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech told CGTN Europe. "It's a gigantic epic story that brings together humans and aliens across centuries and even millennia. It's very exciting, but in the meantime, we get to learn a lot about recent Chinese history, culture and art and connect with our own experience in the world."

China's exports of books, journals and newspapers stood at over $32.7 million in 2022, while the country's imports were worth over $330 million, according to China's National Bureau of Statistics. 


"We see strong interest, a very, very strong interest in any of the research that is coming out of China in science, medical and technical sectors," said North. "When we think about the humanities and social sciences, there are huge insights there, insights around globalization, around how China wants to relate to the rest of the world in terms of country to country relations, in terms of trade, in terms of education, in terms of the way in which different societies are working. These comparative perspectives are hugely valuable."

However, North added, language disparity remains the largest obstacle to the exports of Chinese literary works.

London Book Fair: 'It is the best of times, it is the worst of times' for publishing

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Camera & Video Editing: Ai Yan

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