Posted on August 2, 2013 in Archive

Digital publishing in China


China’s approach to digital publishing is unique in that it combines some really innovative ideas, with an old-fashioned reluctance towards the industry. That’s what makes digital publishing in China special. 

In 2012, China’s digital publishing business recorded a growth of 40.5% on the previous year.

A report issued by the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, reveals that digital publications in China made USD $31.55 billion last year – which was equivalent to 11.6% of the publishing industry’s entire annual revenue.

This was first time that figure has ever exceeded 10%, and is just one indication that the business is starting to pick up in China.

Digital books, magazines and newspapers increased in revenue by 52.6% in 2012.

Publishers and book retailers in China are beginning to get really creative when it comes to further increasing these figures and popularising digital content.

For example, one publisher has taken to converting iPhone apps into children’s books, and another has turned popular TV dramas into digital novels. Partnering with Trajectory Inc., China’s Xiamen Bluebird Cartoon Co. adapted its popular TV series’ Xingxing Fox and Close to the Great Society into digital books for children.

Cloudary, a website dedicated to contemporary Chinese literature, is a great illustration of how fiscally rewarding online content can be.

Recently, the company raised USD $110 million from several large investors including Goldman Sachs.

Cloudary provides digital services, including the distribution of digital books, and manages 6 online reading and writing communities, with a combined total of more than 1.6 million members.

Sanlian Publishing House is another example of the inventive approaches publishers in China are taking to break into the digital publishing scene.

In 2009, Sanlian, the first publishing house on the Chinese mainland to publish graphic novels, created a workshop for authors, digital artists and readers.

Authors and artists are encouraged to submit their ideas online and if their work receives enough public interest, they are invited to attend the workshop with a group of readers who are there to provide input and help to further develop ideas.

In September last year, one of China’s most well known publishing houses, Zhonghua Book Co. launched a multimedia poetry contest for mobile phone users.

Digital publishing in China - Drawing of Zhonghua Book Co. customers

Zhonghua, one of China’s biggest publishers is still hesitant to embrace digital publishing

The competition required applicants to compose an ode that adhered to the strict formula of classic Chinese poetry and submit it via text message.

By the end of the competition, Zhonghua recorded a total of 129 million posts and reposts of poems on mobile devices and the estimated revenue from the project was approximately USD $1.5 million.

To put the success of the poetry contest in perspective, Zhonghua’s best selling physical book of all time, Analects of Confucius, sold 320, 000 copies.

In the past, Zhonghua has been reluctant to trial digital possibilities and this was the first time they have employed digital technologies in a marketing campaign.

Even though the campaign was clever and can be considered successful, the purpose of the poetry contest was to popularise ancient Chinese literature, and in turn promote the company, which is famous for its focus on classical texts.

Zhonghua and other well known publishers are using digital tools in the hope that they will boost sales in their brick and mortar stores, and not because they see digital publishing as a serious and lucrative option.

Some traditional publishers have been hesitant to adopt digital technologies and that is largely due to a lack of familiarity with the industry and how they can benefit financially from digital publishing.

As a result, a lot of them are still focusing on print production, because they know how it works.

Laurence Harris from Danwei, a Chinese media intelligence and research service claims “the digital publishing industry in China has a lot of potential, both as an unprecedented platform for literary publication and as a business”.

Once publishers and retailers overcome endemic regulation and licensing obstacles, and fully realise the value of digital technologies, the Chinese publishing industry will be one to keep a close eye on.

Who knows what quirky ideas they’ll come up with next!