Last week, London Book Fair threw a fascinating spotlight on the publishing industry in China, with China Market Focus bringing 150 Chinese publishers to the UK, many for the first time.
The last time I blogged here on Ingenta I focused on how the consumer-led trend of freemium fiction was transforming the way people in China discovered and read long-form fiction. In this blog, however, inspired by seeing many Chinese publishing companies over in London, I'm taking a far more publishing trade-led view of the Chinese market. Here I list what I believe will be the 3 major trends that will guide the industry in 2012 and beyond. I hope you find them interesting, and please let us know what you think in the comment box below.
1. From institutions to businesses
Up until now the vast majority of China's publishing houses - and certainly all of the country's major publishers - have been state enterprises with owners (the state) separated from the company management. Consequently they have been managed very differently to businesses in other sectors in China, particularly in the technology sector, where a more western-based, entrepreneurial model has prevailed.
2012 will, however, see this situation begin to change, as publishers float on the open market. We expect between 10 and 20 Chinese publishers to float over the next 12 months, offering a minority shareholding to investors. Not only will this generate cash to re-invest in these businesses, but as part-private enterprises publishers will also need to think and behave more like entrepreneurs, creating the new products, platforms and revenue streams that will deliver value to their shareholders.
Another key benefit this change in ownership offers Chinese publishers is the freedom and cash to invest in new technical partners. This will be a critically important factor in readying publishers for the challenges of digital publishing, which is rapidly gaining ground in China.
2. Digital Vision
As well as having one of the oldest publishing industries in the world, China is also home to a new breed of digital publishing companies. These businesses, which include enterprises like gaming company Shenda's publishing arm I wrote about in my last blog, are ambitious, cash-rich and often joint ventures where Western technology is being used to digitise and then monetise Chinese cultural assets. For example, China Music Group, a joint venture between China Record Corporation and American venture capitalists is doing some very interesting work licensing Chinese traditional and classical music across technical platforms like iTunes, Last.fm and eMusic that provides an intriguing template of what could be possible for trade and academic publishers in the future.
3. Chinese Culture Abroad
With plenty of cash available and a combination of a new entrepreneurial ethos and western technology behind them, we can expect Chinese publishers to lead a movement that sees Chinese cultural assets march into the wider world in 2012 and beyond.
As Ingenta's own CEO, George Lossius, explained in his look at the Chinese publishing market late last year, this move is a key part of the government's five year plan for the industry, which it sees as a key means of increasing its cultural as well as economic influence abroad. But there are also compelling commercial as well as political reasons reasons for becoming more outgoing.
As ventures in more mature digital markets than book or journal publishing such as China Music Group are showing, there is demand for the licensing Chinese copyrights outside of its national borders, which can only grow in line with the country's cultural influence. We can therefore expect to see similar projects spring up in the trade and academic publishing sectors: each with the specific aim of making products like Chinese journals, novels and textbooks available all over the world, and delivering new streams of revenue for their publishers.
Nor can we expect this traffic only to be one way. The same digital channels that allow Chinese content to reach international market will also give publishers across the globe a means of direct access to Chinese consumers, libraries, retailers and institutions, thereby opening them up to all the opportunities offered by the world's second biggest economy.