The Chinese journals market is experiencing a huge shift to digital, while more English-language journals are being produced by Chinese publishers and Chinese researchers are beginning to make a deeper impact abroad. Those are some of the key findings of the UK Publishers Association’s Market Report on China Journals, published just ahead of this year’s Beijing International Book Fair, which begins today (24th August).
PA c.e.o. Stephen Lotinga said the report aims to help UK publishers engage with this “very exciting market”. He added: “Conducting business in China does, of course, have its challenges and we will continue to work with the UK and Chinese authorities to seek a more open market to operate in and an ever stronger commitment to copyright.”
The report, say its authors Chu Xiaying and Paul Richardson in their introduction, looks at a market that, “with its ever-increasing research outputs, is simply too big to ignore”. They add: “China seems certain to be one of the most exciting and important markets for specialist publishing in the 21st century.”
Chu and Richardson remark upon a “paradoxical” journals market, with the function of the state an important factor. The government’s role is often positive, they argue, with “a strategic commitment to supporting and improving research and development”.
Yet at the same time, government “funding tends to be centralised, bureaucratic and relies on mechanistic procedures in terms of evaluating quality and impact”, which can slow market growth. Yet the authors laud the Chinese government’s commitment to research. They note that in 2000, China was spending the same amount of money on research and development as France, but “by 2016 it was spending as much as the entire European Union in PPP [purchasing power parity] terms”.
China now generates around 20% of all research papers published worldwide, second only to the US (approximately 23%), with Germany and the UK far behind in third and fourth place respectively, producing around 6% of the global total each.
The true size of China’s journals market is hard to determine, as sales are recorded by a number of different government departments. But Chu and Richardson reckon around 3.1 billion physical journals were printed in 2014 (the last year for which statistics are available). Chinese journals are disseminated through a variety of channels and models, but around a third are sold through state-run retail shops, and a further third through postal services. All told, the overall value of the journals market is some ¥24bn (£2.5bn). Another paradox is noted by Chu and Richardson: despite the increase in research the journals market has remained relatively flat, owing to government restrictions on the number that can be published. Journal volume sales actually declined in 2014 by 5% year on year, while value slipped by a shallower 4.5%.
Yet within this is a shift in the market, with a huge move to digital. Online journal sales rose sharply in 2014, up 17% to ¥1.43bn.
Chu and Richardson also note a rise in English-language journals “springing up like mushrooms”, being produced by Chinese publishers with an aim to make the research more accessible, particularly in the STM sphere.
Though the number of titles in non-native languages makes up only about 3% of China’s nearly 10,000 journals, the authors say there is an increasing number of “high-impact” ones, noting that 185 Chinese English-language journals appear in Thomson Reuters’ 2016 Journal Citation Report (a listing of the top-ranking scholarly publications), up from 162 in 2013.