4 “Wow” Experiences at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Ciao bella! I’ve recently returned from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, and “WOW” is the best expression of this book lover’s experience. I am happily at home in any library or bookstore, so imagine my sheer joy at seeing children’s books from 1,200 exhibitors and 75 countries. I explored the fair over the course of three days, surrounded by more than 26,000 illustrators, authors, publishers, librarians, teachers, developers, marketers, and other industry professionals. I left with several exciting takeaways: that children’s books continue to thrive and are a leader in the publishing industry in terms of sales and fan enthusiasm.

The event also featured a dedicated Digital Media Hall highlighting digital books. Now in its second year, the hall featured three days of exhibitors, talks, seminars, and mobile-platform training. Start-ups and media giants alike are pushing forward innovation in the kid’s content industry. Below are four of my favorite “wow” moments from the Digital Media Hall.

Wow #1: Virtual Reality

Several exhibitors showcased Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies. Luca Prasso from Google’s Daydream VR Platform Team presented Google’s Tilt Brush, which allows you to paint in the 3-D space with virtual reality. Imagine being able to paint virtual stars or fire, or design a room and walk around inside your art creation. For children’s book illustrators and artists, it represents another designing option for their creative toolbox. Go see it for yourself.

Shazia Makhdumi, also from Google, showcased an augmented learning game called QuickDraw, which harnesses machine learning to guess what you are doodling on the screen. They invite you to try it for free.

Wow #2: Coding Concepts

When I was in preschool, if we learned to read Dr. Seuss books and count to 1,000 our parents thought we were geniuses. What will today’s parents think when their preschool kids can code, play with augmented-reality books, and use coding vocabulary? Sigong Media, a Korean publisher, developed Cubico, an AR coding system that teaches preschool children how to code. They use an interactive AR platform combined with fun stories to help kids understand coding. Kids quickly learn coding terminologies and concepts by singing along with Cubico characters. It certainly gives new meaning to the phrase “My child is a genius!”

Wow #3: Augmented Learning

Interactive and AR books are revolutionizing the reading experience for kids. I visited every stand in the Digital Media Hall to experience these books for myself. I loved that I could interact directly with the characters; in one book, I “walked” a dinosaur across the page and made him do a 360-degree spin. One of my favorite experiences was at the Books & Magic booth. Their augmented-reality app brings characters and images to life, creating a magical 3-D experience.

Gerald Cai, managing director at MXRi in Singapore, said, “I’m pleased to launch the new Snap-to-Learn viewer with VR technology at the book fair.  The viewer is designed for five- and six-year-olds [and has] a smaller bridge across the nose. Each viewer comes bundled with four exciting virtual worlds where kids can embark on exciting tours.” MXRi are specialists in AR and VR digital publishing, and like most of the companies in the Digital Media Hall, they are looking for strategic partnerships and licensing agreements.

Victoria Productions, a Korean education tech publisher, has developed Book + App publishing titles in both 2-D and 3-D augmented-reality books. Each fairytale-like story is a fun and interesting adventure that also serves to cultivate a child’s logic and critical-thinking abilities. Each page can be seen in 2-D or 3-D animation (depending on the book series) by using your mobile device. Victoria Han, CEO of Victoria Productions, also presented a talk on new and emerging ways to utilize VR and AR technology in the education and ebook space to open up new channels for increased revenue.

Paolo Albert, co-founder and CEO of Pubcoder, presented on both Pubcoder and Shelf, the company’s new powerful tool to publish, distribute, and sell interactive ebooks. With Pubcoder you can use your book’s assets to create highly interactive content and publish it as an app for Google Play and Apple. Shelf then helps to organize and distribute ebooks on any platform or mobile device. Companies can brand their Shelf with their logo and colors, allowing for a cohesive branding message regardless of the country or market in which books are distributed.

Wow #4: Digital Content’s Growing Influence in Publishing

For the past twenty years, Bayard, the leading children’s publisher in France, has developed innovative concepts to guide and inspire kids on the Web and digital space. Their BayaM imprint of educational mobile apps features characters SamSam the cosmic hero, Little Brown Bear, and Polo the dog. These interactive books and games bring these characters to life through creative play-and-learn experiences. The BayaM group has more than 15,000 subscribers.

So what makes Bayard a “wow”? Its size. Bayard is a magazine and book publisher, a TV producer, and a digital content publisher. It has produced 1,500 pieces of original content, and Studio BayaM produces 500 new and original pieces of content every year. Wow!

Technology was a big part of this year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Larger companies are looking for ways to incorporate digital technologies while maintaining their solid print base. Digital-first companies and start-ups are pushing the envelope by exploring what’s next for children’s books. And when it comes to digital children’s books, augmented and virtual reality may be the next big thing.  

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