2011 Bologna Children’s Book Fair

From March 28th to the 31st I attended the largest children’s book fair in the world, reserved for industry professionals, held each year in Bologna, Italy. I had no idea what to expect and was immediately overwhelmed amidst over 1,000 exhibitors represented. Illustrators, literary agents, distributors, printers, booksellers and publishers dedicated to the children’s publishing and multimedia industry gathered from some 67 different countries. Besides networking, people attend to buy and sell copyrights, align production and distribution for books and discuss the latest trends.  There seemed to be an ongoing, many times overlapping, choice of meetings, lectures and presentations each day of the Fair.

Next year, I plan on studying the program prior to going, so I don’t end up wandering the Fair complex, with mouth agape, missing some fascinating opportunities – and I would strongly recommend having a detailed itinerary to anyone that plans on going.

Among the featured attractions of the Fair each year are the Illustrators Exhibition and Illustrators Café, offering an overview of emerging talent and a program of fascinating topics and award presentations. Each year a panel of Jurists selects from an international applicant pool of illustrators works to be featured in a gallery at the Fair and in the yearly catalogue. This year there were 2836 participants, 76 selected illustrators, and 375 illustrations exhibited. The Café is an area dedicated to Illustrators, as a meeting space and forum for discussions.

Each year a country is selected as a Guest of Honor, this year Lithuania presented some of its finest talent in an exhibition entitled “Illustrarium.”

Other yearly features of the Fair are the Authors’ Café and Panels on Copyrights and Licensing, targeted to authors of Childrens’ books and publishers.

Some of the more interesting presentations were:

  • Buying and Selling Children’s Book Publishing Rights, presented by the Association of Italian Publishers;
  • The Profession of Illustrator: Non-Fiction Illustration and creativity;
  • How the artist develops “scientific” images presented by the Nancy Laties Feresten, SVP and Editor-in-Chief National Geographics Children’s Books;
  • The Profession of Illustrator: illustration to save the world;
  • The importance of illustration in promoting fundraising for humanitarian, social and international causes, presented by Vichi De Marchi, Italy’s spokeperson for the UN World Food;
  • Seminar: How to make it look as if an animal is talking;
  • Seminar: Why Illustrators start to write;
  • Looking Back and Looking Forward: the book finalists of “Children’s Books: The Hans Christian Andersen Award”;
  • From the idea to the project: how to conceive a story – Masterclass with Olga Dugina and Andrej Dugin;
  • Writing to Children of Another Generation, organised by the Israel Embassy in Italy

The highlight of the Fair for me, was the day-long conference, titled “The World of Storytelling is Changing – Tools of Change,” hosted by O’Reilly Media, at which industry leaders discussed publishing in the digital age and integrating digital strategies into current business models.  The conference required advance reservations and was an additional cost of general admission.

Although the conference was geared towards developing apps and interactive media as an added value to children’s books, the topics were of interest even to the strict traditionalists.  Even those that believe that digital platforms will never achieve the intrinsic value of the printed word, the added value of interactivity to the reading experience is undeniable. What became clear is that there are a lot of developers and publishers out there that are looking for original content to use to meet the demands of a booming market. In other words, authors and illustrators of traditional children’s books have only to partner up with these tech-driven companies to expand their audience significantly.

The most important point that was made throughout the conference is that the entire publishing industry is in the middle of a paradigm shift: changing from a “push” to a “pull” business model. This is good news for anyone that has dealt with the nightmare of pitching a story to a publisher. Due to the influx of all the new players in the publishing industry and all the new platforms for publishing, even the most established publishing houses, have to adapt. Ultimately, the quality of the children’s book will continue to determine its success – however, it seems that the consumer may be taking over the Editors spot, at center stage.

I have built my business on digital technology for publishing, empowering authors to bring their vision to life independently – offering illustration and design services. Communicating directly with authors is something that I have fine-tuned over the years  and creatively collaborating to bring a vision to life is a truly rewarding experience. The joy of helping someone tell their story can only be matched by the enthusiasm of a child letting his imagination run wild as he reads the printed picture book.