“For many, China is a black box,” said Ruediger Wischenbart, director of international affairs for BookExpo America, as part of his introduction to China By the Numbers, a panel discussion which sought to deliver straightforward data to those interested in the Chinese market.
OpenBook is China’s equivalent of Nielsen, in that it tracks sales in the retail book market. Jiang Yangping, General Manager of OpenBook, noted that China’s book market was valued at 62.4 billion yuan ($9.6 billion), with growth up 12.8% from 2014, when sales were 55.3 billion yuan ($8.5 billion). There are 1.68 million titles currently available in the market.
Jim Bryant, CEO of Massachusetts-based Trajectory, which facilitates the importation of e-books into China, noted that health and self-help account for about 39% of the market, and business and management titles account for 37%, with fiction taking up about 10%. Social science books, driven by political titles, grew some 17.5% last year, though art books—driven, much like in the States, by adult coloring books—saw the fastest growth, at 27.44%.
Translated titles and imports accounted for 21.68% of the market, with American and U.K. authors accounting for 57% of import sales. Among translations and imports, children’s books was the top category. A Disney book tie-in to the film Big Hero 6 was the top selling children’s title, followed by titles from Mattel’s Barbie series. In the business category, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People and Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct were popular. And with some 300-million English language readers and learners in China today, English-language learning books are among the bestsellers.
Bryant noted that book promotion was key in China and though books typically sold at a price equivalency of $5 to $8 per title, he encouraged publishers to price their books at their traditional home market rate and then offer discounts. “Almost 70% of sales are derived from promotions. He used the example of Susan Page’s If I’m So Wonderful, Then Why Am I Still Single — a book more than three decades old — that was promoted on Amazon China for Valentine’s Day, and was coupled with interviews and video, and became a bestselling title for several weeks.
“China has no standard BIC and BISAC codes,” said Bryant, “and that is something we are trying to influence, as it would greatly aid discovery.
Unsurprisingly, digital publishing and reading platforms remain popular In China. With 300 million mobile phone users who read on their devices, there are several aggressive platforms competing for these readers, including Tencent Literature and iReader Beijing.
Xiangjun Cheng, CEO of iReader Beijing, claims to be among the top booksellers on the planet, with 78 million active users who purchase some 60 million e-books every month. Even more astonishing is that in December 2015, the company reports to have sold e-books to more than 100 million customers.
The company also acts as a digital publisher, selling self-published works from authors, of whom 5,000 are on contract with iReader. Ebooks are priced at either 60 cents to $1.50 per title, or readers are offered a pay-as-you-read model priced at 1 cent per 2,000 words. The platform says on a daily basis, more than 1.5 million writers are paid, but 200 authors under contract are earning more than $80,000 per year. The also company publishes some 200 titles per year, with ten or so being produced at television series or films, said Cheng.