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.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: china, ebooks, fast, publishing


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2011 @ 8:48am

    You would do better if you put up some comparative prices for people to understand, such as the drop rate on taxis being only 2 or 3 yuan, or a bottle of pepsi being 2 yuan.

    In context, in the country, a couple of yuan is actually not cheap.

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