The word is spreading

Updated: 2012-09-14 08:46

By Andrew Moody and Yang Yang (China Daily)

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The word is spreading

China is rapidly becoming a major market for books in English

European and American publishers might be having a hard time in their own markets but at least they have respite in China.

China is now the world's biggest book publishing market by volume with 7.7 billion books published last year, up 7.5 percent on the previous year, according to the General Administration of Press and Publication, which oversees publishing in the country.

The growing interest in the market was reflected in a major attendance yet again at the 19th Beijing International Book Fair, now regarded as one of the top four such fairs in the world.

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The event held at the end of August and earlier this month at the China International Exhibition Center attracted many of the leading figures of the world's major publishing houses.

China is not seen as a market just to get books published in Chinese but is rapidly becoming one of the major world markets for books in English.

According to the British Council, China is producing 20 million new English speakers every year, more than the population of many countries.

As a result, sales of books in English are soaring: 14,708 book titles, mostly in English, were imported by China last year, up 7.2 percent on the previous year, according to GAPP data.

One of the most successful was Little, Brown's biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, which sold 50,000 copies in English in hardback as soon as it hit the shelves.

Selling rights to Chinese publishers to publish books in Chinese was also a major activity at the fair with 3,298 deals being done, up 11.7 percent on last year.

A major chunk of the foreign publishing market in China remains educational publishing and academic textbooks, bolstered by China's well-funded library and education system.

Yet the world's second-largest economy is also becoming increasingly attractive for mainstream publishers trying to achieve a mass appeal in the market.

Penguin, the first so-called trade publisher to enter the market in 2005, is now embarking on publishing books directly in Chinese.

Its first venture is the autobiography of Chinese tennis star Li Na, who on returning from the US Open drew mass crowds at a signing session in Beijing.

For Singapore-based Barry D. Clarke, managing director for Asia Pacific of British academic publisher Taylor & Francis, a major headache is reining in his bosses from getting too excited about the China market.

"The biggest problem I have is managing expectations of my senior management in the UK and America who are seeing dramatic declines in key markets, particularly southern Europe, and are looking for Asia to make up the difference," he says.

Clarke says one of the ironies of the current market is that China is doing well - since educational establishments remain well-funded - while the slowdown in the Chinese economy is damaging other Asian markets.

"China's growth has been less dramatic and that has had a knock-on effect on Singapore and other Asian markets sooner than it has had on China itself because their economies are so dependent on the Chinese market and so book-buying budgets are being cut," he adds.

One of the major trade publishers at the show was the US giant Harper Collins.

Its major publishing successes in China in recent years have been John Naisbitt's China Megatrends and the Donald Trump autobiography Trump.

Stella Chou, Greater China managing director, says one of the biggest drivers of growth for the sale of English books in China has been online retailers such as Amazon and its Chinese competitors Dangdang and 360buy.

"English language book sales are growing and during the last two years this has been driven by online stores," she says.

"They have made it easier for customers to access English language books and the competition has also led to the books coming down in price. Consumers are also now more willing to read English language books, particularly children's books."

Chou says it has always traditionally been difficult to sell English books through the established book retail network.

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