Chinese Publishers Adapt to Rising Popularity of E-Books

Ebooks continue to grow in popularity in China, on the back of widespread mobile phone adoption and strong tablet sales. From Xinhua:

The Shanghai 99 Readers’ Culture Co., Ltd., the owner of the store, plans to sell an e-reader application through Apple’s App Store by the end of this year in an effort to capitalize on the increasing popularity of tablet computers and mobile devices.

Mobile device users who download the application will be able to browse the company’s library and purchase copyrighted e-books for just 60 percent of the cost of buying a printed version, according to Yuang Yuhai, the company’s president.

“The Internet is an infinite bookshelf,” Huang said. He is already known for his ability to adapt to China’s changing publishing industry in the Internet era ….

Traditional publishing houses are scrambling to find solutions to what could become a dangerous trend for printed media. These companies have taken to using microblogs as a marketing tool in order to increase the visibility of their products ….

The change indicates that publishing has become a more dynamic and interactive industry, rather than merely focusing on the one-way transfer of information, according to Huang.

Ebook reading is also a prominent feature of Baidu’s new Yi mobile OS, based on Google’s Android. Baidu was said last month to have bought a 40% stake in ebook vendor Fanshu.com; the company’s earlier Wenku (“Library”) document and ebook sharing platform sparked accusations that the company was deliberately profiteering from piracy.

In April, Xinhua reported impressive growth of ebook consumption last year, with mobile phones the most popular platform:

The survey, conducted by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication (CAPP), covers more than 19,000 people from 51 cities in 29 Chinese provincial regions.

It says that Chinese people between the ages of 18 and 70 read 613 million electronic books in 2010.

Among them, 23 percent read e-books via mobile phones, up 8 percentage points from 2009. Another 3.9 percent read books on e-book readers and over 18 percent read books on the Internet, it said.

Online distribution and reading of novels has become well established in China in recent years, as Wired reported in 2007:

Zhang Muye is a thirty-something office worker who shows up to his Chinese investment company on time. Yet to millions of Chinese fans, he is the author of ‘Ghost Blows Out the Light’, an internet novel viewed more than 6 million times online. It has sold 600,000 copies in print ….

It’s a particularly lucrative game. Zhang is far from unique in China, where writing and reading novels online has become the hobby of an estimated 10 million youth. Yet unlike the music world, where MP3s are threatening to kill off CDs, online novels in China are helping physical books fly off the shelves. Print versions of popular online works sell by the millions and publishers, as well as authors, are cashing in.

“Novel,” the top search term on China’s biggest search engine, Baidu, yields thousands of Chinese literature websites. More than 100,000 amateurs shirk mundane duties to publish their tales of fantasy and love in installments on these platforms. A handful of anonymous web authors have seen their pageviews soar into the upper seven digits. When that happens, print publishers come knocking.

The phenomenon has much in common with the enormous popularity in Japan of ‘keitai shousetsu’ (cellphone novels), which are distributed, read and even written on mobile phones.

Sources:

Chinese publishers adapt to rising popularity of e-books – Xinhua
Survey indicates e-book boom in China – Xinhua
The Chinese Novel Finds New Life Online – Wired