Publishers hope for e-books success

Updated: 2012-04-26 08:49

By Zhang Yuchen (China Daily)

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Sticking to profession

In the massive Chinese market, textbooks form a significant proportion of the works available through digital publishing.

"A new reading experience equates to a new learning experience," said Li Hongfei, deputy director of the marketing department of the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press. "Great customer experiences are based on good-quality books and they stem from good editing."

Publishers hope for e-books success

Although many young people like to use Apple's iPad, or read e-books, the publication of e-books still has a long way to go in China. Liu Zhe / China Daily

"Textbooks about agriculture or chemistry will play an important role in the future of e-book reading."

The FLTRP is playing to its strengths. The publisher targets professional customers by offering an online library, self-evaluation test portals, online reading materials, a website teaching foreign languages and an online service for academics.

"In this area, we know the kind of role we should play, and that's to be a provider of professional education services."

Later this year, the FLTRP will introduce a range of foreign-language classics, as part of a campaign to promote foreign masterpieces across all age ranges. "Even though the platform has changed and become digital, most of the content it provides should not be as shallow as time travel literature and romantic novels," Li said.

Everybody ready?

However, this approach does not appeal to everyone. At a digital publishing conference held in March, 80 percent of the participants showed virtually no interest in publishing literature digitally. Mostly, these publishers are involved in government-funded projects to digitize old newspapers to provide a news and history archive, according to an industry insider who asked not to be named.

The attitudes on display at the conference are emblematic of the difficulties faced by Chinese publishers as they attempt to transition from traditional publishing to the new realities in a world where the old certainties are being undermined by new fashions.

"Digital publishing is like a teenager sent to study overseas who must adapt to a different culture and learn new things in order to survive in a strange country," said the insider, who has worked in the publishing industry for more than five years.

Digital publishing will prompt changes in the publishers' business models, especially for those that believe they will be able to survive as a single-content distribution channel.

But the device-based market is unlikely to wait for those who are slow to adjust. Although people had been reading e-books since their appearance, the turning point came in 2007 when Amazon released its revolutionary Kindle e-reader.

At that point, the world started paying attention to the newly formatted content. There are now around 12 e-reader manufacturers in the Chinese market, some with extremely strong links to online stores.

In 2008, Hanvon was the first Chinese technology company to produce an e-reader and the company remains the dominant force in the market. Next comes the Bambook, an e-reader manufactured by Shanghai Nutshell. Meanwhile, the Beijing-based Founder Technology produces the Wefound & Yambook e-readers.

Dangdang, China's largest online book retailer, is also expected to introduce its own branded e-reader in the second half of the year.

However, opinions vary on the development of these devices. "The future of the digital market is still unclear and it would have been better if we'd considered it earlier," said Li from the FLTRP.

Citic's Huang doesn't believe that a Chinese equivalent version of the Kindle will appear anytime soon. "It will be a long road for a domestic company to produce e-readers that reflect the depth of experience that Amazon has," he said. "It will require constant updates and regular development."

Wu Wencong contributed to this story.

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