E-Publishing The Chinese Way: Very Fast And Very Cheap

from the surely-worth-trying dept

Increasingly, publishers are joining the music and film industries in bemoaning the effects of piracy on the sales of digital products ? and some are even starting to sue people for alleged copyright infringement (because that has worked so well elsewhere.) Perhaps they should take a look at what is happening in China: instead of whining about e-book sales “lost” to piracy, publishers there have come up with a business model that embraces the possibilities of the Internet:

Here in China, nearly 195 million people are hooked on a kind of literature that is virtually unknown in the West, but that is rapidly transforming its authors and a new breed of online media companies into the publishing stars of the future. Web literature or ?original fiction? as it?s called in China is a new form of serial literature which theoretically allows anyone to become a best-selling author.

The system works through a growing number of self-publishing websites that host thousands of constantly evolving, free-to-read stories posted on the sites by their authors. These websites are incredibly popular with consumers, attracting over 40% of all China?s internet users every month, who come to read web serials that can be anything from realistic novels to historical epics, comics, sci-fi and fantasy.

The ingenious part of this publishing model comes in when an individual author?s serial gathers a critical mass of readers. At this point the self-publishing site invites the author to become a VIP, and their serial moves to a different section of the site where readers can sample some chapters of their work for free, but have to pay if they want to read the latest installments.

That may just sound like a typical bait-and-switch paywall approach – get them hooked then get them to pay – but there are a couple of things of note here. First, the speed at which new content is added: in a comment to the article quoted above, the publisher Lisa Zhang speaks of how “daily updating of the works on our platforms helps to build a close writer-reader relationship.” Secondly, the extremely low paywall charges are designed to minimize any reader’s urge to hunt out pirated versions of “VIP” content – prices are “around 2-3 Yuan (about 20p or 30 cents) per 100,000 words” according to the article.

Scale is clearly important here, and one of the big advantages that Chinese publishers have over those operating in most other countries. And that applies to the writing side as well as to the sales. In her comment Zhang writes: “by the end of June 2011, 1.4 million writers have been writing on our platforms. They have created 5.4 million titles.”

Still, it’s great to see publishers moving on from tired arguments about piracy, and spending their money not on lobbying for new laws to defend old monopolies, but on investments in new business models that have led to a huge upsurge in creativity ? and profits. Maybe it’s time the US started copying China for a change.

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Comments on “E-Publishing The Chinese Way: Very Fast And Very Cheap”

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out_of_the_blue says:

And if widely pirated, then that system will collapse too!

Writing for profit depends on nearly everyone following the rules and respecting your right to exclusive distribution. That’s probably true in China, decidedly on the decrease here.

When piracy becomes rampant, when copyright is ignored, then the essential /exclusive/ right to income from the works is at best ignored (worse, in my opinion if money flows to grifters).

Your aims always involve actually getting money for your works, right? May be delayed, may be indirect, but nearly everyone expects a reward, or at least a shot at it. Piracy removes that possibility.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Maybe it’s time the US started copying China for a change.”

Oh, but we ARE copying China.
The Chinese government proposed the great firewall of China.
The American government proposed the great firewall of America.

The only difference is, China actually got past the proposal stage. But hey, our governments trying it’s damnedest here! They won’t let China have the monopoly on great firewalls forever!


Anonymous Coward says:

And if widely pirated, then that system will collapse too!

‘ piracy removes that possibility’
No, it doesn’t, there has been precisely zero evidence to support any statement like that.
What little evidence there is suggests that at worst piracy has no calculable effect on overall sales, with some suggestion that for some individual titles it actually contributes to sales.

Anonymous Coward says:

And if widely pirated, then that system will collapse too!

“Your aims always involve actually getting money for your works, right? May be delayed, may be indirect, but nearly everyone expects a reward, or at least a shot at it. Piracy removes that possibility.”

Piracy does not [i]remove[/i] the possibility.
At worst, it [i]reduces[/i] the possibility.

Semantics perhaps. But it does make (and mean) a very big difference.

Sherwin F (profile) says:

And if widely pirated, then that system will collapse too!

No, piracy doesn’t remove the possibility of rewards for your work. In many cases the people that download, for example an MP3, would not otherwise pay for that work. In a lot of cases they wouldn’t have even known about the artist/work in the first place.

I used to download music, but now usually listen to music on YouTube, or some other streaming service, since that is easier than downloading music in a lot of cases. A lot of the times I would just go to Napster or something like that and just search for, and download, maybe 100 or so songs at a time just by searching for ‘remix’ or something general.

Sure in many cases it would be a song by an artist I have already heard of, but a lot of those songs would be by people I have never heard of, and a lot of those artists were very good. It wouldn’t be fair for anyone to say my download took anything away from them, because up until I downloaded that song they were unknown to me. But now I probably visit their website, facebook page, YouTube videos, or follow them on Twitter. So while they didn’t lose anything from my download, they did gain something…. Another fan.

davnel (profile) says:


This has been going on here for a long time. Where do you think China got the idea? We have subscription sites for story serials that have been going for a long time, for example storiesonline.net (mostly erotica) and online-novels.blogspot.com with lots of books. The list is almost endless. Most have excellent writers. There are many many stories, some complete, some in progress with chapters published daily or weekly.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I’ve really liked the idea of such a system. For a while, I thought of doing something similar. Except that instead of putting the work behind a paywall once you hit a certain threshold, print a thousand copies of the work, have the author autograph it and auction them off. Ideally, you might want to create an “online store” where the author could then sell anything. Including a sort of “kickstarter” style system where fans tip and you release the next installment once enough have tipped. I wish I had tried to execute on that.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

None of this is really new, just a new location. In the 19th Century in England newspapers serialized stories and then suddenly the story would stop, left hanging as the publisher and author got around to publishing the book or short story.

This was, in large measure, the origin of what the Brit’s called penny dreadfuls — largely horror stories or social commentary. Charles Dickens started out this way.

As the technology changed we rediscover what came before and claim it for ourselves as if it’s new. Perhaps it is to China but elsewhere it’s on it’s second time around the track. If so-called intellectual property laws keep hardening we’ll never have the opportunity have a rebirth in literary and other forms of story telling culture we had in the middle and late 19th Century. The Chinese, who seem less worried about the remote possibilities of so-called piracy, will have one of their own. Like so many things regarding China these days we’ll be left on the sidelines trying to figure out what happened.

Anonymous Coward says:


“such as the drop rate on taxis being only 2 or 3 yuan”

Well, perhaps if the U.S. stopped granting monopoly privileges over everything, like taxi cab monopolies, prices here can be cheaper as well.

“such as the drop rate on taxis being only 2 or 3 yuan”

Or it could be that they have more purchasing power? Probably not, but that’s largely because the U.S. has way more natural resources per capita being that China is far more heavily populated.

Anonymous Coward says:

Some background on this

There is a common problem for publishing industry – You rarely have big profit, perheps you even have chance for great loss, for publishing books written by bestsellers. The only time the publishers get big profit is for signing contract for a new writer who writes eye-attracting stories. But how can you tell?

When it come to internet age, a few groups of publishers think it could be nice investment for a website to test user response. So they set up a website, releasing the first few chapters of author works for free, charge visitors a small fee and give it to author for reading later work to give incentives for authors to continue their hard work. Once in a month or so, they select 1 – 3 top place authors to have them sign contract for publishing their book. (This part that the first 20-30 chapters free online doesn’t really matter. If readers found it’s a good story, they’ll buy the full series for collection)

Just that a few years later, the “publishing on paper” market shrink and people grow more accustomed to reading e-book, and somehow the number of online readers grows enough to support companies just hosting contents online, a lot of these companies mostly abondon the “publishing on paper” part and focus on “publishing online” part, that makes what we see now.

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