Forum explores digitalization of book market

Updated: 2012-08-29 07:32

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

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The world's top publishers and publishing industry watchers gathered in Beijing on Tuesday to discuss the digitalization of books, a major trend inside and outside China. Inc's Vice-President Jon P. Fine was one of the speakers at the Beijing International Publishing Forum for the second time. He said he returned because of China's market potential and the country's importance in the company's global strategy.

"I'm attracted to publishing in other languages, like in Chinese," he said. "We want to establish a great collaboration here: to bring our books in and take great China stories to other countries."

China's booming e-publishing market is attracting more players, such as Amazon. But Chinese publishers also see digitalization as an efficient and accessible way to make Chinese books and culture more widely known.

Held every year at the time of the Beijing International Book Fair, the publishing forum, along with the China Book International's Foreign Consultants Seminar, which was held on Monday, are two exchange platforms with a growing global influence. This year, the two forums talked about international publishing in the digital age.

Digital revolution

In 2011, China's e-publishing market became a 137.7 billion yuan ($21.7 billion) business, Liu Binjie, director of the General Administration of Press and Publications, said Tuesday at the forum.

The digital business is in focus because 38.6 percent of Chinese people aged 18 to 70 are e-readers, while hundreds of millions of people read books on their cellphones, Liu said.

"We're at a key stage of the switch to the digital age," he said.

Liu believes that China got an early start in the digital-book age, but unlike in Western countries - where traditional publishers took the lead - the changes here were initiated by technological companies, leaving a gap between content providers and service platforms.

He also said the government is encouraging the digitalization with favored policies and other moves.

"I saw incredible focus and attention at every level on digitalization in China. The policymakers, publishers, authors, readers, everybody is thinking about it," Amazon's Fine told China Daily, adding that he noticed a big change compared with four years ago.

Like the other speakers from home and abroad, Fine shared his views on how to navigate the digital revolution.

He believes that publishing companies should develop books digitally and in print simultaneously, and fully utilize social media, as well as rethink traditional pricing strategies.

"Digital is not an afterthought," he said.

Xiao Wei, general manager of China Telecom Digital Reading Base, a platform provider, said that their business grew significantly in the initial 22 months and encouraged content providers to join the success story.

Asked about the future of printed books, Fine said that he still sees a tremendous future for print. And he showed data indicating that physical books are experiencing solid growth in the United States, while e-book sales are also going up.

"Some like digital, some like print," Fine said, "We just make sure that both formats are always available."

After the forum, the 19th Beijing International Book Fair had a grand opening at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday evening. Featuring the Republic of Korea as the Country of Honor, the fair will kick off on Wednesday at the new China International Exhibition Center in Beijing's Shunyi district.

The fair will host events on copyright issues, international cultural exchanges and writers' talks until September 2.