Digital daze

Updated: 2014-12-03 07:11

By Xing Yi(China Daily)

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Digital daze
More Chinese read through their smartphones.

With the use of smartphones and tablets rising in the country, many Chinese are taking to e-reading. Xing Yi reports.

With the rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets, Chinese are reading more on their palms.

A recent report by E-surfing Reading Culture Communications, a China Telecom subsidiary, points to the trend. The company provides e-reading and other digital content to about 220 million registered users in the country.

According to the report, released on Nov 26, about 40 percent of the company's users of its e-surfing reader app read between 6 am and 9 am, overlapping with the commuting time most people use to get to work.

The company's users in second- and third-tier cities read more digital books as compared to Beijing or Shanghai, which aren't on the top e-reading list, according to the report. Taizhou, a coastal city in eastern China's Zhejiang province, with around 6 million people, topped the chart with an annual average readership of 10.5 e-books in 2014. The national average was 2.48 titles in 2013.

The report throws up interesting reading habits across different provinces, regions and cities.

For example, readers in Beijing prefer spooky thrillers such as Gui Chui Deng (Candle in the Tomb) and Dao Mu Ren (Tomb Robber); readers in Shanghai like humorous short stories and collections of jokes after a hard day's work; people in Suzhou, one of China's top tourist spots, like romantic novels set in imperial times while residents of Chongqing devour fantasy martial arts books.

Since the report by E-surfing is limited to its own users of the e-surfing reader app, a national survey released by Chinese Academy of Press and Publication earlier this year may provide a clearer picture.

According to that survey, conducted on 40,600 people across 74 cities in 29 provinces, regions and municipalities, more than half of the readers polled had some digital reading experiences in 2013.

Some five years ago, readers with such experiences made up just 24 percent of the 25,500 people surveyed.

According to the academy, 66 percent of the people responding earlier this year preferred reading paper books. While 15 percent of people read online on computers, there were 15.6 percent that used mobile phones for reading. The users of e-reading devices such as Kindle were only 2.4 percent.

Most of the people who prefer digital reading are aged from 18 to 49, representing 92.6 percent of those who tried to read e-books. The survey said that children under 17 remain largely readers of paper books due to their parents' concern over their eyesight.

The rapid development of digital reading poses challenges for both digital and traditional publishers as the survey finds that more than 90 percent of readers claim they won't buy paper books after they have read the same title online while only around 40 percent of them are willing to pay for the content, and the rest only read free content.

According to the annual report of China's publishing industry from 2013 to 2014, the operating revenue for digital publishing in China touched 250 billion yuan (around $40 billion), with a profit of nearly 20 billion yuan by 2013.

As the second-largest book market after the United States, China's total output in publishing, printing and distribution exceeded 1.82 trillion yuan in 2013, up 9.7 percent from the previous year.

But while digital publishing has grown rapidly, the growth of the traditional publishing sector in China has been slowing down in the past few years. In 2013, digital publishing grew at 31.3 percent as compared to 2012, earning 19.9 billion yuan.

But experts don't think traditional publishing will fade away soon.

"Even for traditional publishing, though its market share will shrink, I don't think it will die out, and for the time being, it will still remain stable," Xiao Dongfa, the director of Modern Publishing Institute at Peking University, tells China Daily.

He adds that overall publishing will remain a "sunrise industry", because Chinese like to read.

"Be it digital or traditional, the needs for education, entertainment and obtaining information all point to publishing."

Sun Lijun, a professor of publishing at Renmin University of China, agrees with the optimism of Xiao, and points out that the burgeoning digital publishing in China has given the country an advantage to compete with mature Western markets. "The stable economic growth is good news for the publishing industry."

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