Say goodbye to “book cities” and hello to a world of literature dominated by mobile devices. According to China Daily, 90 percent of internet browsing now takes place on mobile phones in China—and unsurprisingly, e-book publishing companies are taking advantage.
Though Chinese authors and academics are soul-searching regarding post-Reform China’s “decimated” reading culture, Amazon China’s 2017 Reading Report shows that digital reading is expanding rapidly, predominantly due to China’s increasing use of mobile phones for everything from shopping to paying bills and booking hospital appointments. According to the report, 300 million people in China now use their mobile devices to read electronic literature.
While sales of e-readers are actually on the decline at a global scale, the sales of both reading devices and e-books in China have been growing at a rate of 25 percent year-on-year, according to a report from China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association.
“Among large emerging economies, China has seen a unique and continuous rise in book sales, with consumers only recently willing to pay for e-books on a significant scale—yet with a commercially thriving online reading market expanding now for well over a decade,” the 2017 Global Ebook Report, released in May, says.
According to market consultancy QYResearch, China now holds a nearly eight percent share of the global e-book market, behind North America and Europe. E-books are entering the scene at a time when the appeal of reading and interest in physical books is declining: According to Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, 40 percent of China’s population did not read one book during 2015.
China Reading, a literature subsidiary of giant Tencent Holdings, is the largest eBook and online publishing company in China. Originally launched by a computer science graduate in 2002 under the name of Qidian.com, it soon merged with Shanda Literature, which back in 2010 controlled 80 percent of the digital literature market. It then merged with Tencent Literature in 2015 to create Yuewen Group, also known as China Reading. China Reading has publishing partnerships with the likes of Baidu, JD.com, and China Mobile.
The company reported 175 million monthly active users as of the end of 2016, with 160 million mobile users and 15 million desktop users—145 million more readers are using their mobile devices to access eBooks. China Reading boasts 10 million original novels covering almost 200 genres.
The Amazon China report also found that 78 percent of readers share their reading experiences online, such as WeChat and review website Douban. Overall growth for English e-book sales on Amazon China was 68 percent according to the report, with British author J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter series leading the way with the most popular titles.
CEO of China Reading, Wu Wenhui, said the company aims to cater to Chinese readers, unlike the Amazon Kindle, which is geared towards English readers. In spite of these local competitors, Amazon China still dominates a large part of the market in China: Last month, Amazon partnered with China Mobile to release a brand new Kindle for the Chinese market called the Kindle X Migu.
According to China Daily, vice-president of Amazon China, Bruce Aitken, said that “China has become the largest market in the world for Kindle and enjoys a very strong growth momentum.” Amazon has also partnered with several publishing giants including Commercial Press and CITIC Press Group.
In May 2017, China Reading launched an online multi-language site, Qidian International, to introduce China’s digital novels to the rest of the world. The company plans to translate some of China’s most successful e-books for foreign readers in an attempt to expand its business globally. South China Morning Post reports that this move could “eventually put it in direct competition with Kindle.”
China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association found variations in the preferred genre of different generations: those born in the 70s prefer historical biographies, the 80s and 90s generation like to read romance novels, while millennials are most likely to read “modern metropolis stories,” a subgenre of (usually) romance novels set in modern cities. Amazon China’s report also found that 71 percent of readers born in the 2000s read books on a Kindle, compared to 25 percent of those born in the 1950s.
Self-publishing websites have also been popular for many years in China: in 2011, self-publishing websites were attracting more than 40 percent of all China’s internet users each month. Beijing-based literary translator and publishing consultant Eric Abrahamsen attributes the success of the self-publishing industry to Chinese readers being “unusually willing to read on mobile devices and other screens.” With regards to the success of publishing giant China Reading, he said told the Guardian, “The key to the Shanda model is that thousands of writers are producing material at high speed, for low prices.” More often than not, e-books and self-published works are either available free of charge or cost a few dollars.
Another potential reason for the popularity of online literature could be due to weak censorship. “The most daring Chinese writing is to be found online, where censors have less reach,” a writer for the New York Times blog Latitude says.
Moving forward, China Reading is “seeking momentum in the key market” by setting up a fund to spend $29 million in support of the long-term development of the publishing sector, focusing on better stories and supporting young writers.
“Reading is no longer confined by time and space. We’re now entering a brand new age to embrace the online reading trend,” Zhu Jing, the company’s vice president, told China Daily.
Cover image from South China Morning Post