On the surface, digital publishing would seem to be at an early stage in China. Observers say that traditional publishers are not pushing e-editions of their books very hard, and until recently, the government, which is still the industry’s dominant shareholder, has not put its weight behind the format. Look more closely, however, it’s clear that a new publishing ecosystem is already taking shape in China, but it’s not the Amazon co-prosperity sphere model. Instead, digital publishing platforms are becoming the dominant channel for young writers.
The rise of e-books and reading on digital devices has changed every part on the publishing production chain, affecting everyone from the editors, to the designers, to the marketing and sales people. Editors are spending more time on acquiring books and less time working on manuscripts. Designers become more flexible and strategic: they need to make sure a book won’t be ignored by skimmers who only glance at thumbnails on websites, and must ensure that texts are well-laid-out for reading on many kinds of mobile devices. But they’re not who need to change most. It’s the marketing and sales people who face an ever-more-challenging job.
Over the past two years, the Big Five publisher’s share of the e-book market on Amazon has dropped from 43% to roughly 23%. Publishers Weekly’s Apple iBook Bestseller list also includes self-published authors: on the Feb. 17 list, three of the top ten best sellers were self-published. As these numbers suggest, digitalization is not just changing which books reach the market, but how they are put together. For writers, choosing independent publication is no longer the shameful last resort it once was, and for average writers, this path raises the odds of success from nil to slim.