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Readership among children and young adults keeps growing, Bologna Children’s Book Fair reveals

by Cristina Battocletti

There's nothing minor about the “Bologna Children's Book Fair,” except the age bracket concerned. The 54th edition which closed on April 6 affirmed its status as the most important international publishing event for children's and YA (young adults) books. The fair, which is trade-only and devoted to buying, selling and marketing copyrights, saw a 2% growth in trade visitors – illustrators, authors, exhibitors, publishers, operators, artists, librarians, teachers, app and multimedia producers and developers –: over 26,743 professionals (+2% by comparison with 2016), 44% of which foreign visitors (11,752, i.e. +15% versus 2016).

Over 20,000 square meters available, 1,200 exhibitors from over 75 countries, including first-timers from Albania, Andorra, Ecuador, Iceland, the Ivory Coast, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru; as well as 720 journalists from 40 countries to report on the event. The multimedia pavilion, which only started last year, has already expanded: it's called Bologna Digital Media, featuring augmented reality, creative technology, e-readers and new services fresh from Silicon Valley.

The YA market is growing: according to AIE figures (Associazione Italiana Editori, the Association of Italian Publishers) for 2016, 183 publishing houses are active in this sector, and the YA market is worth €217.1 million (up 5.3% from 2015), if we don't count large-scale retail distribution. If we include all channels (large-scale retail, toy centers and post offices), the figure grows to €229 million (+4.2% over 2015). The number of books printed in 2016 was 5,573 (approximately -14% compared to 2015, when they totaled 6,457, albeit in line with previous years). Potential young and very young readers in Italy are in excess of 8 million, over 5 million of whom in the most important market sector, which goes from 6 to 14-year-olds. According to ISTAT figures, the age range that reads the most in Italy is between 10 and 19: it's the only one where readers total over 53.2%, compared to an average 42-43% share of the population.

The Fair is important to identify trends in publishing for children and young adults, which has come to include subjects customarily reserved to an adult public, such as immigration, social issues like disability and the economic crisis, biographies; besides classic escapist books, as well as humorous stories à la Roald Dahl (last year was the hundredth anniversary of his birth).

Particular attention has been paid to increasingly sophisticated illustrations. For the first time, the original panels from the Illustrators' Exhibition – which saw the Balearic Islands and Catalonia as Guests of Honor this year – is being shown to the public at large, after the fair, in the Exhibition Hall of the Archaeological Museum of Bologna, from April 9 to May 7.
Another city spinoff of the fair is the show titled “This Is Not an Exhibition, Monsieur Magritte!,” held at the Gualandi Foundation in favor of the hearing-impaired of Bologna until June 4.

Next year's fair will run from March 26 through 29th, and feature China as a guest of honor, followed by the overseas debut of “Bologna Children's Book Fair” in New York City, from May 30th to June 1st, 2018. This will give American publishers and agents an opportunity to meet their colleagues from all over the world, and will see the participation of booksellers and librarians. The anglophone name served indeed the trade fair well.