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China’s mobile reading phenomenon

China’s current publishing landscape is at once exciting and complex, and is in the midst of a significant transformation through its opening up to the world in commerce and culture, and through the impact of technology which is, as elsewhere, radically changing the way its readers consume and share written content.

In December 2014, the number of Internet users in China reached 649 million, of which the number of mobile Internet users had reached 557 million (85.8%), according to the 35th Statistical Report on Internet Development in China [1]. Nielsen data [2] has put the percentage of Chinese consumers aged 16+ with a mobile phone at 89%.

This surge in mobile use has brought with it a surge in mobile reading, defined by China Publishers as ‘the act of reading and consuming digital content on mobile devices’ [3] such as phones, tablets, PCs, e-readers, etc. and which covers e-books, e-newspapers, e-magazines and mobile cartoons. Mobile reading hit its stride in 2012, with total revenues of 6.89 billion Yuan (£656 million), with the number of cumulative users that year surpassing 600 million. [4]

Online Literature sites first emerged in China in 1990, and have grown rapidly since then, with companies like Shanda Cloudary and TenCent leading the way and making superstars of its authors. Readers in China now regularly access Online Literature, predominantly long-form serialised fiction, on their smartphones and tablets.

In the past ten years, these Online Literature sites have grown substantially: a parallel publishing system operating seemingly outside of the traditional Chinese publishing industry. The China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) reported that China had 293 million Online Literature readers in 2014, an increase of 7.1% over the previous year, [5] with this fast development attributed to the rise in mobile phone use in China, and the platforms being widely supported by mobile companies. [6]

Chinese online literature platforms have also managed, to the envy of Western online platforms, to monetise the selling of this reading content, in seamlessly integrated, payment mechanisms.

This week’s news that Tencent Literature and Shanda Cloudary will become Yuewen Group, will see the creation of China’s largest online publishing and e-book company, a veritable global superpower in the world of digital reading.

“With 1,200 employees and more than three million books, the new company expects to attract around 100 million readers generating more than 200 million yuan (US$ 31.9 million) per year”, said Yuewen CEO Wu Wenhui.”

The reach and influence of Online Literature platforms globally is now starting to be felt. Last week China’s Tencent Literature also announced its agreement with Trajectory, a Boston-based digital distribution platform, ‘to export Tencent Literature’s catalogue of over 200,000 e-books to North and South America. Furthermore, Trajectory will export English-language titles and make them available to Tencent’s 800 million users.’ [7]

So, where are the West’s equivalents to these mobile reading phenomena? Canada’s Wattpad claims it has the world’s largest community of readers and writers, with 85% of its users accessing its 75 million stories via mobile. For others in the publishing industry, how content is commissioned for this fast-growing platform and competitive marketplace remains a key challenge.

What will be interesting to watch is how traditional publishers and others respond to the challenge of attracting readers in this arena.

This blog is published as part of The London Book Fair’s first Virtual Conference on 18th March 2015. #pdmc15

In May The Literary Platform will be launching their report ‘The Publishing Landscape in China: New and Emerging Opportunities for British Writers’. The report maps out the market for British publishers and writers in China, identifies the barriers to entering and operating in the market, and considers how much of an opportunity digital transformation represents for British publishers and writers to reach Chinese audiences.

This report accompanies a Nesta research report, ‘Telling Stories Using Social Data: How social media platforms can help UK publishers understand their market in China’ by Hasan Bakhshi , Philippe Schneider, Jan Soendermann and Andrew Whitby which will be published at the same time.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded the research, undertaken by Nesta and The Literary Platform, in partnership the British Council and Douban, one of China’s biggest social media channels.

If you are interested in receiving the report in May then please contact [email protected] to be added to our distribution list.


[1] 35th Statistical Report on Internet Development in China, CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center)

[2] The Mobile Consumer: A Global Snapshot 2013, Nielsen

[3] The Digital Publishing Phalanx in China, report by China Publishers for Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

[4] The Digital Publishing Phalanx in China, report by China Publishers for Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

[5] ‘Mo Yan: Network Literature is a Part of Literature’, Culture & Influence, 10th October 2013

[6] Chinese Network Literature Marketing Research Annual Report, 2013


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