By Li Zhiguo
With the annual Shanghai Book Fair around the corner, Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication published the Survey on Shanghai Citizens' Reading Behaviors. According to the Survey, digital reading's challenge on traditional reading method has taken shape, and, correspondingly, the scale effect of China's digital publishing industry is materializing.
According to the Survey, choice of "Conventional (paper) books reading" is 56.69 percent and "Online reading" 32.06 percent, whereas the time distribution on both methods is almost equal. According to statistics, the annual revenue of China's digital publishing in 2011 reached RMB 137.788 billion Yuan, up 31 percent compared with 2010. In this year's Shanghai Book Fair, the 570m2 "Digital Publishing Pavilion" is especially eye-catching. 12 digital publishing organizations and companies, including Lifetimeedu.com, Cloudary, and Hanvon, take part in the exhibition, covering such links in the industrial chain as content, platform, and terminal, collectively exhibiting Shanghai's new products, new technologies, and new achievements in digital publishing.
According to Kan Ninghui, deputy director of Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Press and Publishing, total output value of Shanghai's digital publishing industry in 2011 was as high as RMB 27.8 billion Yuan, increasing by 26.36 percent year on year; there are now 54 enterprises in Shanghai that have online publishing permit issued by the General Administration of Press and Publication, ranking 2nd in China.
It's noteworthy that China's digital publishing has developed a unique development model. For instance, multi-channel distribution is possible: digital publication can be distributed on the internet, on the mobile internet, as well as on screens, TV, and paper publications by means of IP authorization. Take the mobile internet as an example, China Mobile alone had more than 68 million users who read on Cloudary, 21 million of who were paid readers.
It can't be denied that China's digital publishing industry still has many problems. "Normally, the electronic books I read are neither pirated version with numerous mistakes or monotonous junk novels", some readers wondered in this year's Shanghai Book Fair, "why there is no electronic version of those wonderful books in the book fair?" Shi Lingkong, chief editor of Shanghai Translation Publishing House replied to the question: "Publishers are just not willing to release electronic version of bestselling books immediately for fear of piracy".
With the contradiction between readers who are used to free digital books and publishing houses that are looking forwards to profiting from these books for further production, publishing houses don't have sufficient momentum in digital publishing. As a matter of fact, Shanghai Translation Publishing House has released numerous electronic books, including works of some popular American and European writers, on iPad and 360buy.com, but "sales were not good. The habit of paying for electronic books has not yet been established in Chinese readers".
Besides, price wars are often wielded without considering the cost; some writers may authorize repeatedly, resulting in ambiguous copyrights; and in terms of management, its often direct dialogue between content and channel in China's digital publishing, missing such links as production, marketing, and data digging in between. These are all problems that bottleneck the digital publishing industry.
Nonetheless, digital publishers such as lifetimeedu.com, Cloudary, and Hanvon are still seeking a proper business model. In order to spur powerful creative spirit in writers, Cloudary has developed community application services such as Urging and Rewarding; trial read is offered for commercialized works, charging the readers when they are sufficiently attracted. Hou Xiaoqiang, CEO of Cloudary, said: "In the future, we should make better use of these unique advantages to take part in the global digital publishing industry and in the making and maintenance of order".
As emerging digital publishers are making vigorous exploration, conventional publishing organizations are also striving to break out of the encirclement. Shanghai Century Publishing Group took digital publishing into consideration when it was editing the Major Changes series of books. Shi Hongjun, vice president of Shanghai Century Publishing Group, said that: "The trend of digitalization is unstoppable. Electronic books will make reading more popular and cover a wider scope of the population". Of course, there are a lot of problems to be solved at present. For instance, should the government make state-level regulation on the standardization of the format of electronic books, so as to avoid the current great loss of society resources and help to create orderly competition under the guidance of industrial regulative departments?
Kan Ninghui also points out that Shanghai will embrace the opportunities brought by the "integration of the three networks" and Shanghai's "Smart City" construction, promote R&D of terminal-oriented multimedia digital publishing technology, and build Shanghai into a digital publishing upland that is leading in terms of volume, output value, and concentration. By the end of the 12th Five-year Plan, Shanghai intend to establish 3-5 leading digital publishing enterprises that have an annual output value of more than RMB 2 billion Yuan, cultivate 1 or 2 digital publishing events that have high international popularity and great industrial influence, and make sure that industrial output value of the digital publishing industry reach RMB 60 billion Yuan.