• 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)


The many challenges of the digital age

As we have attempted to highlight, new technologies are profoundly transforming the Chinese publishing world. However, there are many challenges to be faced by publishers in this digital age – particularly by small and medium players with private capital.[1]

To begin with, digital piracy is a spectre that, for obvious reasons, looms large over all publishing houses. Indeed, if a giant like Shanda has to continually battle against other portals alleged to have committed breaches of copyright, then what remains for other smaller sized actors to do? According to various sources, there are over 530,000 sites with pirated books in China[2] and in fact 95% of book downloads in the country are believed to be of unauthorized materials.[3] However, the growing presence of local corporations that – like Shanda, ChineseAll or Founder Apabi – base their business on copyright is likely to help mitigate the problem in the medium term. The technological and economic changes that have taken place in China in recent years have led legal experts to thoroughly rethink copyright law, so sooner or later modifications in legislation are also bound to occur.[4]

In addition, publishers usually lack the funds to initiate a process of restructuring, and even when they do have the resources, they don’t know where they should migrate, because the new business model is not particularly clear.

A further obstacle that also affects smaller publishing houses is the lack of standardization in file formats and metadata, which is partly due to the emergence of local giants that have imposed their own norms within their respective ecosystems. A greater degree of regulation should be expected in this area too.

Another typical problem – which happens to affect Chinese industry in general – is the difficulty of building brands that are attractive outside of China. In this sense, we could say that the Asian giant has not always found a way to transform quantity into quality, something that its US, European and Japanese competitors have managed to do. There is a risk, therefore, that Chinese publishing houses will make do with their domestic market and their digital developments will not become known in the rest of the world. Given that such advances could provide extremely valuable knowledge for other publishers in developing countries, it would be interesting to set up a sort of observatory providing up-to-date information on the topic.

Lastly, the State intervention that has always characterized mainland China makes any attempt to work directly with small and medium-sized publishing houses laborious, and even counterproductive. It may be necessary to go through local institutions – universities, R&D centres, and digital publishing technology parks – in order to make contact with entrepreneurs. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, however, it may be worth trying to establish more direct links with publishers.

  1. To examine this point we have exclusively made use of the available bibliographic material, since China was the only country from which we were unable to obtain direct responses to our online interview. The language factor no doubt had a part to play in this, but other variables have also exerted an influence. The first surprise was to discover that, unlike their colleagues in the rest of the world, Chinese publishers could not open the Web form. It took us a few days to understand that this was a direct result of the conflict between Google and Beijing, which in early 2010 led the company from Silicon Valley to cancel its operations in the Asian giant: our questionnaire, built using Google Forms, was thus impossible to access in China. Some publishers with a good command of English kindly requested the questionnaire in a Word file, but in the end they never answered it. This lack of response is in stark contrast to the fluid exchange we were able to conduct with a number of professionals from Taiwan and even with Western publishers based in mainland China.
  2. Cf. , jfdaily.eastday.com, 18th August, 2010.
  3. Cf. Jing Xiaolei: “Readers Going Digital”, Beijing Review, 26th November, 2009.
  4. Cf. , Chinaxwcb, 25th February, 2011.

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