Chinese Market Holds a Key to Publishing Growth

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

As I flew out this week for the Beijing International Book Fair, China was dominating the international news—first, by showcasing its growing global sporting profile through the World Athletic Championships, and second, by illustrating its importance to the global economy with a stock market fall that sent shockwaves through international markets.

For businesses, China is often misunderstood: many have thrown themselves into the country expecting to find gold, only to lose a lot of money and focus in the process. But this is the fault of the businesses entering it and not the market itself, and there is no doubt that over recent years, the vast Chinese market has grown greatly in global significance.

And over the last year, it has become increasingly clear that this growing stature strongly affects the publishing industry, as well. With financial results being released, Phoenix Publishing and China South both shook up the top 10 largest global publisher list, and following a common business pattern for China, strategic investments in and acquisitions of international publishers have been in the news regularly.

That China is a strong publishing market is nothing new. Chinese publishers have bought vast amounts of rights from international companies for many years, and with a massive population and high literacy rate for its central genres, it is one of the world’s largest book markets. Securing successful distribution into the country can be challenging, but for rights licensing it has long been a key territory for many international publishers.

What is new is the Chinese government’s drive to have more work licensed out of China to international publishers to publish in their own languages and territories. This is particularly significant, as virtually all key publishers in China are state-owned, so such a drive will inevitably have a major impact on the market.

Traditionally translating work out of China has been challenging. But the growth of digital content and routes to delivery, increased access to international translators, and the focus on Chinese business in recent years have lowered this barrier considerably. And with the extensive amount of content published in China and sitting behind that barrier, there is immense potential for increased Chinese content being published overseas—an opportunity the government has recognized.

China can be a forward-thinking country, and there are a number of conversations happening in the background on collective and varying forms of licensing, surely making this a space to watch. And one of the advantages of state-owned companies—without overlooking the disadvantages—is that when deals are made, they are very quick to be comprehensively adopted. In addition, with a leading technology sector, China is in a great place to be a leader of publishing innovation.

So while the short-term shock of the stock market fall may be currently hitting the headlines, in the medium term, and specifically in publishing, China is going to play a key role over the coming years. For an industry finishing shaking itself down and showing some signs of positive growth after a very challenging decade, this is an especially interesting development, with the potential for a major boost for the global publishing industry.


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Tom Chalmers

About Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He started his first company in 2005 when aged 25, Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. Chalmers subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing, and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections, respectively. He also founded IPR License in 2012, a global rights licensing platform, which he sold in 2016. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. He also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

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