• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [—]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)


Migration to digital, a State policy

As we recalled at the beginning of the chapter, China has been undertaking economic reforms for over 30 years. Since 2001 in particular – when the country joined the World Trade Organization –, the Chinese public sector has been going through a process of significant restructuring, and both publishing houses and bookstores have accompanied this shift. In the 2006-2010 period – corresponding to China’s 11th 5-year plan –, the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) did everything in its power to ensure that these public companies became profitable, incorporated private capital, adopted an international profile[1] and quickly began their transition to the digital age.

The migration to digital has taken different forms, according to the profile of each company. China Publishing Group, for example, has created an independent business unit, Digital Media, which is completely focused on new technologies. Liu Chengyong, the director of this division, believes that foreign companies wishing to take advantage of China’s extraordinary potential in the field of electronic publishing should form alliances with local partners, otherwise they will face serious difficulties in a market whose logic is very different from that of the US or Europe:

Western companies cannot let go of their pride and are constantly trying to impose themselves and their products on China. In a cooperation or a merger, foreign companies would have a much greater chance of success in China, while purely foreign or purely local businesses lack the necessary flexibility.[2]

This policy of cooperation with international firms, according to Liu Chengyong, must be accompanied by a strategy that guarantees the self-sufficiency of each publishing house in relation to local providers. This largely amounts to recognizing the need for state-owned publishers to also become ecosystems, as occurred with the digital consortiums analysed in the previous section:

It is very important to us not to be tied to technology providers, telecommunications operators or hardware providers. But we don’t want to be permanently reduced to the position of simple content providers. We should be able to integrate different resources. That means acquisition of the necessary technology and hardware, putting them together and printing our own label on it. We will resolutely move forward and create our own brand.[3]

Thus in April 2010, China Publishing Group brought out its own reading device, the Dajia, which includes 108 pre-installed books. Also in its plans is the launch of a Chinese version of the Espresso Book Machine.[4] Liu Chengyong reckons the consortium will need about 40 million dollars – between government contributions and its own funds – to carry out its ambitious technological restructuring plans.[5]

In 2010, Shanghai Century Publishing Group also introduced its own e-reader – called Cihai –, as well as an electronic publications platform by the name of Ewen. The company has held talks with another consortium, the Hebei Publishing Group, about the joint distribution of digital content.[6] We could also add to this list countless examples of other state companies – such as the Chongqing Publishing Group or the Guangdong Publishing Group – that are investing millions in adapting to the electronic age by working with interactive platforms, reading devices, applications for mobile phones, etc.

In addition to accelerating the migration of public publishing houses, China has also begun to work on bookstores and libraries. The most outstanding example is that of Xinhua, the chain of 20,000 stores that controls 70% of retail sales in physical books. In May 2010, Xinhua Shanghai launched its e-book portal – Xinhuaestore –, as well as an e-reader called YeahMore,[7] in partnership with the technology firm Edo and the media consortium Jiefang Daily.[8] Technological restructuring as a State policy can also be seen in the case of libraries; for example in the construction of the National Digital Library of China, a project which was explicitly emphasized in the 11th 5-year plan.[9]

Lastly, the public sector’s determination to accelerate the migration of the book sector is demonstrated by the setting up of industrial parks – or “bases” – devoted exclusively to digital publishing. The first of these was Shanghai-Zhangjiang Park, inaugurated in 2008, which was soon succeeded by other parks founded in Chonging, Hangzhou, Beijing and Hunan. These bases are designed to house companies and R&D centres whose operations revolve around the production and distribution of digital content, from e-books and electronic magazines to news and – interestingly – videogames. Thanks to the contributions made by public and private actors, since 2009 Shanghai has become the leading city in digital publishing in the whole of China, with earnings close to 3 billion dollars, out of a national total of 12 billion dollars, according to data provided by GAPP in August 2010.[10] Incidentally, this body announced in a statement that in 2009 the number of digital publications exceeded that of traditional publications.[11] However, this piece of information could give rise to confusion, since – and it is worth emphasizing – GAPP interprets the “digital publishing” sector in such a loose manner that the figure is rather exaggerated; in fact, the participation of e-books in the total was just 1.83%.[12] In any case, it is undeniable that digital publishing is making rapid progress in China and this is largely due to investments undertaken by the public sector. The director of GAPP – Liu Binjie – is clearly satisfied with the achievements made in the 5-year period from 2006-2010:

Two keywords characterized the press and publishing industry during the past 5 years: reform and innovation. Reform set the industry free to promote its growth; innovation generated diverse cultural products and means of transmission.[13]

  1. The aim of this expansion would be to consolidate sales of Chinese cultural products to the West and particularly to other Asian countries. Cf. Wang Qian: “China’s publishing to go global”, China Daily, 12th January, 2011.
  2. Cf. “Shanghai exclusive – journey to the media world of China”, Frankfurt Book Fair.
  3. Cf. Lei Ren: “China Publishing Group Launches Digital Subsidiary, Preps for the Future”, Publishing Perspectives, 22nd July, 2010.
  4. Cf. Chen Jing, op. cit., 27th September, 2010.
  5. Cf. Lei Ren, op. cit., 22nd July, 2010.
  6. Cf. “Publishing Groups Are Under Price Pressure When Testing On Electronic Readers”, China Book International.
  7. Cf. http://www.yeahmore.com.
  8. Cf. Hippisley-Cox, Alex: “PA’s Emma House reports from Shanghai on digital publishing in China”, Future Book, 31st August, 2010.
  9. Cf. “The Outline of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan of the National Library of China”, National Library of China.
  10. Cf. Wuping Zhao: “Shanghai is China’s Leading City for Digital Publishing”, Publishing Perspectives, 2nd August, 2010.
  11. Cf. Zhuang Guangping y Tu Lingbo: “Rosy outlook for China’s digital publishing sector”, China Economic Net, 23rd August, 2010.
  12. Cf. Moody, Andrew: “Demise of the printed word?”, China Daily, 6th September, 2010.
  13. Cf. “The rise and power of China’s culture industry”, Global Times, 31st December, 2010.

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