Print publications continue to thrive in digital world
Updated: 2011-09-16 08:40
By Jiang Yiqing (China Daily)
The traditional publishing industry in China doesn't seem to be threatened by the e-book market flourishing around the world.
China published 328,000 books in 2010, a year-on-year increase of 8.8 percent, a record. China ranks No 1 in the world for the number of books published in one year.
Three factors have contributed to the historical boom of the publication industry in China: the favorable publication system for State-owned institutes, growing private companies and a lot of funding opportunities for print publications.
Under such circumstances, the development of e-books does not pose a serious threat to traditional publishing in China.
To some extent, China's regulations on publications are how print media has survived and thrived. It is stipulated that State-owned publishing houses are the only authorized means to print a book. They are able to obtain resources more easily and have the direct or indirect support of the government - such as funding.
A simple example reflects this phenomenon. There are 30 books in China that sold more than 1 million copies in 2010. The top three are manuals on public emergencies, drug safety and earthquakes. Through this we can find that governmental support has more or less contributed to the sales of public interest oriented books.
Private companies, such as Thinkingdom Media Group Ltd and Beijing Han Tang Yang Guang Media Ltd, have experienced a growth in literature and social science publications in recent years.
Because private companies aren't legally authorized to print books, they sometimes work with State-owned publishing institutes to produce publications. Many private publishing companies have thought up and developed ideas to meet the demands of readers. At the same time, the State-owned publishing institutes treat those private companies as efficient marketing assistants. The publishing resources of State-owned institutes and private companies come out with a win-win result.
E-book platforms such as Kindle and iPad are not as popular in China as in other countries. Because the industry hasn't developed and many books in China aren't available in an electronic form at the same time, e-books in China pose little challenge to the printed media. A stable and long-term business model hasn't been formed, either.
Those who are running the production and sales platforms of e-books in China are more focused on the technology side. They don't have enough experience on the integration of copyright, content editing, reproduction and interaction technology. They also lack the ability of the so-called reproduction of culture, which is the core of the publication industry. Because of the lack of experience, a lot of publishers are only getting half the results with twice the amount of effort.
Providing that the traditional State-owned publishing institutes are the only legal avenues to print books, they can still share the resources with digital publishers.
We should be aware that the essence of the publishing industry is the content, just as many have said "what books sell is the story, not the paper". In this sense, the development of e-books can't directly undermine the structure of the traditional publishing industry.
Digitization has also helped printed books to make a profit. For example, some books sold on Amazon.com are printed in a technology called Print-On-Demand. Thousands of copies of custom printed books can be produced by using a large, rotary press. This technology not only cuts costs, but also creates unique books.
Without a doubt, e-books will eventually replace printed books. But how the traditional publishing industry operates won't change entirely.
Developing a story line, the cultivation of veteran writers, and marketing and promotion should be followed by the traditional publishing industry as well as the digital publishing industry.
No matter how the Chinese publication industry transforms, the principle will remain the same.
As long as people want books - printed or electronic - to pass on our culture to coming generations, the publishing industry won't die.
The author is the associated managing editor of Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House.
(China Daily 09/16/2011 page7)
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