With people staying home during the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in China, bricks-and-mortar bookstores were deserted and book events canceled. For publishers, going online, trying out different tech tools, and rethinking promotional and marketing methods while working remotely from home were par for the course.

At Thinkingdom Children’s Books, two important bookstore events that were already planned prior to the Lunar New Year holiday had to be canceled. “We were supposed to have a talk on the Snowstorm Beast, our new fantasy novel series, and a promotional activity on Shinsuke Yoshitake’s new titles, which we have recently published,” says Li Xin, v-p and general editor at Thinkingdom Children’s Books, whose staff started working from home on February 3. “So we turned to video-streaming to reach out to our target audience. We did 15 online book-sharing sessions and eight live broadcasts in February, and 55,000 viewers tuned in. With platforms such as Xiaoe-Tech, WeChat group, and Taobao Live, our editing and marketing efforts have continued with little disruption during the outbreak.”

China’s connected and tech-savvy population—with 847 million mobile phone users and 433 million livestreaming users—makes online promotional and marketing efforts feasible. Publishers can utilize short-form video-sharing tools offered by major online retailers such as Dangdang, JD, and Taobao, as well other platforms, including Douyin (or TikTok, as it is known outside of China), Kuaishou (which has more than 300 million daily active users), and Youku (a Chinese equivalent of YouTube).

During this period of remote working, apps such as Alibaba’s DingTalk and Tencent’s WeChat Work gained market traction. DingTalk is now used by more than 10 million enterprises to serve 200 million workers, while Tencent is leveraging its super-app WeChat’s 1.2 billion users to penetrate the enterprise-collaboration industry.

In early March, 600,000 teachers in 300 cities across China started using DingTalk’s livestreaming tool to hold online classes for nearly 50 million students. The government also launched a cloud-learning platform to provide learning resources for junior and high school students, and started national broadcast of lessons for primary school students. After-school tutoring centers, mostly privately owned, ramped up their efforts to move classes online. So telecommunications and technology players, including Alibaba, China Mobile, and Huawei, scrambled to back up their bandwidth to support this surge in online usage.

New business strategies have emerged while offline-driven businesses are shifting their focus to online models during the epidemic. This period of forced experimentation will see the Chinese book industry gaining more insights into what works and what doesn’t in terms of deploying tech tools to reach consumers and continue their day-to-day activities.

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