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Electronic readers’ jump in popularity just beginning

Yang Yang
Updated: Jan 23,2017 9:59 AM     China Daily

Students in a primary school in Hefei, capital of Anhui province, compare an e-book to a printed one in April, 2016. Young readers are expected to drive the growth of e-readers.[Photo/Xinhua]

Sales of printed books also rise for now, but future belongs to words on screens

Chinese people clearly love to read. Unlike in other parts of the world, where many publishers are tearing their hair out, sales of both printed and electronic books continued to rise last year.

The future, however, is clearly tied to the internet and electronic reading, thanks to the habits of young readers.

It’s all about convenience.

Zhang Yujia, a 30-year-old freelance translator from Guangzhou, is just one example. Last summer, she borrowed a copy of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by China’s Hugo Award-winning author Liu Cixin.

But by the time she finished the first volume, she was supposed to move to the United States. While she was eager to continue reading the trilogy, she wasn’t happy about the prospect of lugging heavy books with her. So she left them behind, downloading the next two volumes on her Amazon Kindle once she was in the US.

“It’s much easier to carry a Kindle around than the printed books of Liu’s trilogy, and the electronic versions are cheaper as well,” Zhang said.

Increasingly, Chinese are reading books on every gadget they have, from desktop computers to handheld devices. The trend is now spreading to audiobooks.

The e-reading market in China last year is expected to hit 11.8 billion yuan ($1.72 billion), when all the figures are tallied, which would be an increase of 17.4 percent over 2015, according to e-commerce consultancy company Analysis International.

More than 60 percent of Chinese who read on mobile devices are no older than 30, and most are younger than 25, studies have shown. Young readers say it is faster and easier to obtain e-books. It is also easier to read using a handheld device than to turn paper pages in crowded subway trains.

But despite expectations, e-books didn’t affect the sales of printed books in 2016, according to OpenBook, a company that provides information services to the book market in China. Chinese have simply diversified and expanded their reading habits.

Last year, sales of printed books increased by 12.3 percent to 70.1 billion yuan, according to OpenBook.

The leading online bookstore in China, Dangdang, saw its overall sales grow to 14 billion yuan in 2016 from 11 billion yuan in 2015.

Last year, 64 percent of customers on Dangdang-more than 40 million people-purchased e-books, up 55 percent compared with 2015. Among e-book readers, 35 percent spent more than one hour reading e-books every day.

Since entering the Chinese market in 2013, Amazon has seen its monthly active Kindle users grow by 41 times, said Bruce Aitken, general manager of Kindle China.

The US-based e-commerce company has worked with more than 660 Chinese publishers to provide old classics and modern books to readers on Kindle. In the past three years, the devices have offered 420,000 Chinese titles, Aitken said. China is now the second-largest market for Kindle after the United States.

Besides books, users can also send articles from Chinese phone applications to their e-reader, using such functions as “send to Kindle” on WeChat.

“If they (readers) come cross an article they like from People’s Daily or the magazine Lifeweek on WeChat, they can send it directly to Kindle,” Aitken said. Since this service started in 2015, the annual traffic for such posts has grown by 50 percent.

For Amazon, books published simultaneously last year in print and for Kindles increased by 60 percent compared with 2015, said Elaine Chang, CEO of Amazon China. The sale of books that were published in both formats at the same time were double those for books published only in one, she added.

Many readers consider flexibility important in their reading platforms.

In 2015, Chinese adults spent more than 62 minutes reading text on cellphones as compared with a little less than 34 minutes in 2014, according to an annual reading report released by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication in April. Many use phones to read online literature.

One of the country’s biggest providers of online literature is China Reading, an arm of internet giant Tencent.

The China Reading app, launched in 2010, has attracted hundreds of millions of users. Tencent launched the app after absorbing many independent platforms such as Cloudary, once the largest interactive online writing platform in China.

Wu Wenhui, CEO of China Reading, said in previous media interviews that his company plans to launch its own electronic devices.

China Reading now offers more than 10 million works, covering over 200 categories, such as romance, self-help and classics. It has about 600 million users, and every day about 30 million read via the app on mobile devices and other platforms.

As many as 4 million people are writing for the platform on a wide range of topics, and in 2016 alone, China Reading paid about 100 million yuan to its writers. They include top names like Zhu Hongzhi.

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