Business / Technology

E-book sales to take off along with mobile devices

By Meng Jing (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-21 09:15

The growing use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets in China could serve as the catalyst for a massive growth in the country's digital publishing industry, according to Robert Baensch, director of publishing programs at the SUNY Global Center, part of the State University of New York.

Speaking at the first World Digital Publishing Conference held in Beijing on Thursday, Baensch said that while not all smart-device owners will use theirs to read e-books, he expected that with their help the country's digital publishing sector is ready to take off.

"More than 50 percent of people in the US use smart devices and around 23 percent of them read through mobile devices," he said. "The Chinese market is ready for digital publishing."

According to estimates from multinational consultancy Gartner Inc, the smartphone penetration rate in China is expected to reach 90 percent by the end of 2014, figures that are already attracting huge interest from digital publishers around the world.

Jane Friedman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, a New York-based digital startup that publishes and markets e-books, said she recently offered 95 percent of her e-book catalog in China through Amazon China's platform.

"The e-books were launched here in June. Sales are OK so far, but I am very optimistic that they will get better," said Friedman.

While e-book sales accounted for 2 percent to 4 percent of total sales of books four or five years ago, that has soared to about 23 percent to 25 percent of the sales of the top five trade publishers in the US, said Friedman, adding the same fast growth could happen in China.

There are no official statistics yet on Chinese e-book sales, but insiders at the conference said they reckon the market already accounts for a low single digit of total book sales.

Many Chinese publishers at the three-day event said that their biggest challenge is that the majority of Chinese Internet users have yet to form the habit of paying for what they read.

Tang Chao, chairman of leading Chinese e-journal publisher Longyuan, said that most of his company's revenues are from organizations such as libraries and universities.

"We publish the e-versions of some of the country's best-selling magazines, but despite good sales of the print versions, people still don't want to buy the e-versions."

Baensch said one of the major reasons for the lack of willingness to pay for e-books in China is that the prices of printed books are still very cheap compared with what they are in the US.

However, Friedman insisted there is a huge potential e-book audience in China.

"Digital publishers need to split their income with authors and telecom carriers," she said.

"To make that viable, the volume of e-book sales has to be high, and I think the population in China can make it happen."

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