The Chinese academic publishing industry is booming. In recent years, China has paid more and more attention to academic publishing, with companies publishing works that feature new ideas and old traditions. Indeed, the Chinese government itself has recognized that the quality of academic publishing reflects the country’s technological development as a whole.

The figures on imported academic books and related content are impressive. In 2014, China imported more than 25 million academic books, newspapers, and periodicals, worth more than $283 million. Similar numbers can be found in the digital education market: more than 134,000 items worth $210 million were brought into the country over the course of the year. The academic segment makes up the majority of books imported to China. According to SAPPRFT (the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television), between 60% and 70% of all book imports are related to academic and scholarly topics. Customers of these books are not only the traditional recipients, such as Chinese universities, but also research institutions, public libraries, government agencies, hospitals, and other institutions. In fact, an influx of state funding has made libraries the fastest growing channel for academic books across China.

The process of importing books into China is not a simple one. Customers face hurdles such as choosing which materials to buy, as well as how to house them, integrate them into existing databases, transport them, and clear them through customs and government regulations. Therefore most clients rely on the expertise of agents specializing in the entire process of importing books into China. At present, the China National Publications Import and Export Group Corporation (CNPIEC) is the largest of these providers, covering 40% of the Chinese import market. Looking at the company’s statistics gives a useful overview of the state of academic publications imported by China. When it comes to the sources of imported academic books, the top three countries of origin are the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany, according to CNPIEC; the U.S. accounts for 41% of imports. The main importers of scholarly publications in the Chinese market are university libraries, public libraries, and research institutions.

Aided by increased government funding for academia as a whole, demand for imported academic books grew steadily between 2010 and 2014 at university libraries and research institutions. That growing demand in turn has led to a consistent year-over-year rise in imports during that same period. Over the course of these five years, the total number of academic books imported into China doubled.

The Hot Categories

What kinds of books are popular in the Chinese market? Between 2010 and 2014, the country focused on importing books on economic and business topics, and to a lesser extent on social science subjects such as history, and philosophy. Books on natural sciences and engineering have been in relatively low demand.

The strong showing of the soft sciences is due to the buying habits of institutions. When it comes to sciences, Chinese institutions focus on buying the newest scientific and technological titles and forgo older publications. In other fields, older publications are of much greater relevance and interest to an academic audience. Thus, year by year, social science imports far exceed imports from other fields.

As the largest player in the academic publishing market, CNPIEC consistently aims to expand its client base and to improve its available content. In this vein, the company each year places a focus on one particular area, based on trends and major current events. For instance, in 2014 the company focused on economic texts as interest in the subject continued to grow among scholars.

The industry’s most important meeting point for Chinese publishers, the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), also plays host to special exhibitions by the company. As an example of CNPIEC placing an emphasis on what is important at a nation-wide level, in 2015, the company held a special academic publishing exhibition dedicated to publications from the “One Belt and One Road” countries: this was done to align with the Chinese government’s commitment to bring its central- and near-Asian neighbors together economically.

For Chinese customers, the annual BIBF is the most important time of the year to make book purchases. This year, to facilitate the selling process, BIBF will not only set up a special library area, but will provide personnel and seminars to help customers choose what to buy. One of the main takeaways from previous seminars held for BIBF’s customers was that many Chinese clients have an interest in furthering direct dialogue with foreign academic publishers and in learning more about the most current buyingplans. BIBF is the perfect forum for overseas customers to learn about the latest in exporting books to China, while also fostering communication between Chinese and foreign academic publishing experts.

To both foreign and Chinese publishers, BIBF is an important event for meeting all the major players in the academic field. Last year about 200 representatives from some of China’s most important libraries, such as the National Library of China, Tsinghua University Library, Peking University Library, and the Capital Library attended BIBF. At the fair more than 20,000 copies of books were sold.

Like every year, top global publishers such as Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press exhibit at the BIBF in order to showcase their newest titles, receive feedback from users, and meet with important distributors. With the importance given to education in China and the sheer size of the market, academic publishing in China should get stronger in coming years.

This article was sponsored and written by China National Publications Import & Export Group Corp., organizer of China Market Focus Events.

Kong Xiaohua is deputy managing director of Book Import Center, CNPIEC.