The majority of us grew up being surrounded by books and using them for information; whether that was in the classroom for studying about ancient Egyptians, or at home going on adventures with our favourite childhood authors, at work for acquiring new methods of doing things, and even using a physical dictionary to look up the meanings of words. It was a time when screens didn't consume our free time. The knowledge we gained from books was fruitful, until one day when the Internet came along. The Internet changed the way we did everything. We no longer had to read through pages and pages of words before we stumbled upon something that was useful, we could type in a question online and be rewarded with the answers in a matter of seconds. Therefore it was no surprise to learn that the book market is suffering in the West. However, when reading that China (a society who are the pioneers of all things digital) is actually enjoying growth within the traditional book industry, it was interesting to find out what the current state of the market is.
China now represents the second largest book market in the world (USA being the first). In physical stores (not online) sales are highest for textbooks (25.4%), social sciences (19.6%) and children's and young adult's books (18.2%). Popularity of the social science genre is a product of the growing middle class who are well-educated and have a new sophisticated taste for things such as self-help. Growth within the book market is also due to consumers with rising incomes and a higher propensity to spend on consumer goods.
Children's books are the main driver of growth in the book market. Between January and September 2018 the children segment has expanded by 14.2%. The success of textbooks in particular, can be attributed to a highly competitive society that has fostered a strong academic culture amongst parents. Although many children would rather face a screen instead of a book, facing the wrath of their parents is far more unappealing! Children's books have also enjoyed successful growth due to changing laws of the one-child policy, increasing the available consumer population within this market.
Currently only around 20% of all books in China are imported, but with an increasingly sophisticated growing middle class there is definitely an appetite for foreign books in China. However it can be a difficult market for foreign authors to navigate through. The book industry is controlled by the government with strict regulations. Companies must have specific publication import licenses for the right to import foreign books, and these rights are only at the hands of a few select government-owned companies. Companies should also obtain a permit for running publications if they wish to sell books in China. Big companies generally tend to favour importing well-known authors with big titles, and importing books on a huge scale. This can be quite restrictive for smaller authors who don’t have a solid reputation yet and only wish to import smaller amounts of books into China.
Although the publishing industry is experiencing high periods of growth within traditional forms of books, it is also enjoying success on the digital front too. In 2015, the revenue from the digital publishing industry was 440.39 billion yuan and the biggest proportion was from mobile publishing. In China a hugely popular way to read e-books is in the form of online platforms. Traditional forms of publishing books can be a difficult path for Chinese authors, choosing to go down the digital route may be the only viable option. So far the platforms don't have the same level of oversight from the government as paper books do which also makes it easier for authors to surpass certain boundaries, but still need an approval from the relevant government authority.
The most successful online platform right now is Tencent Literature with over 820 million active monthly users. The online platforms work by having authors post the first few chapters of their story for free to tease their readers and gauge their interest, then when the title has got a substantial amount of followers, online websites will offer the authors a paid contract. Eager readers who are hungry for more will then have to pay per chapter.
There are a few problems with the e-book market in China though. Usually the profit margins are minimal for writers, and serious money will only come from when entertainment companies wish to purchase the adaptation rights to make it into a film or TV show. Another problem is e-piracy, it's easy for other websites to copy content and make it available to readers who don't wish to pay to read more. Whilst the government has been quick to react to this, shutting down nearly 4000 websites in the past 5 years, new websites appear just as fast.
The book market in China is a high-growth industry, and although more and more people choose to go digital in every way of life, it still hasn't lured people away from the feel of freshly-printed pages of a new book. Whilst all types of books are flourishing in China, the dominating segment is children's books. In Chinese society, parents are keen to provide their children with the best possible education opportunities and books are the key to this. Additionally, this has also led to a demand for children's foreign books, believing that international books are paramount to success. Though the e-book market is developing too, such a strong retail market makes the move to digital a little slow. As China’s economy develops and more people are educated, the book industry plays a crucial part in this.
Please note this article is based from a personal point of view and is not done from specific research.