China studies from Nesta and Literary Platform

China studies from Nesta and Literary Platform

The Chinese book market represents an opportunity for UK publishers and writers, but there are still "considerable hurdles to overcome", according to new research from Nesta and The Literary Platform.

In two reports published today (27th May), the research lays out the scope of opportunities to reach a growing Chinese market, particularly through the use of social media, such as Douban, a social media platform, publisher and retailer.

The first report, by innovation foundation Nesta, is titled Found in Translation: How Social Media Platforms can help UK Publishers Understand their Market in China, uses the case study of novelist David Mitchell, who ran a contest on Dourban Read, asking people to translate two of his short stories.

The experiment found that people taking part in the contest were not necessarily fans of Mitchell, though the quality of their translations was generally high, and those who competed were no more likely to engage with Mitchell's work after taking part. However, the research showed that social networking insights could help publishers to understand the market, suggesting that reaching out to so-called "superfans" could help lead to commercial success.

The conclusion of the report stated: "There are stark differences between Chinese and Western book consumption habits which present considerable hurdles for UK publishers – the undeveloped nature of the e–book market, the popularity of online fiction (dominated by local talent), a seemingly low willingness to pay, attitudes to piracy and last, but not least, an immature understanding of Chinese readers’ preferences. As a consequence of all these factors the market uncertainties are great."

The second report, produced by The Literary Platform, is titled The Publishing Landscape in China: New and Emerging Opportunities for British Writers. It is based on interviews with groups such as Amazon China, Douban, Penguin China, and the China-Britain Business Council.

It suggests that the Chinese market is "much further ahead in trying to develop innovative business models and revenue streams" from new digital models, giving opportunities to British writers. However, it also warns that: "In the meantime, the traditional gatekeepers of China’s market remain powerful, with state publishers still usually preferring to buy rights for prize-winning British writers via an agent. Such practice is unlikely to be disrupted in the short term, not least because it is a much easier system for Chinese authorities to control."

It suggests publishers and writers begin establishing social media profiles on sites such as Douban and Weibo, and concludes: "If China’s e-book market moves into a period of rapid growth, as predicted by distributors, and if this growth does begin to help the reduction of piracy with the support of Chinese government initiatives, then China represents a very exciting market for British publishers and authors."