China In Your Hands. The Global English-Language Book Market

Go Global In 2014Many of you are unconvinced by our enthusiasm for the overseas markets, arguing that, without translations to local languages, it simply isn’t worth the effort to target foreign lands, no matter how big they might be.

Yes, China has fifty trillion, gazillion, pfazillion people all eagerly buying ebooks, but who cares? The lazy b******s can’t be bothered to speak English, so in the words of Marie Antoinette’s second cousin in Cathay, let them eat prawn crackers.

But as we’ve said on many occasions, while some indies take the moral low ground and dismiss Johnny Foreigner as a waste of time, trad pub is raking in the cash from English-language titles overseas.

In July last year the Association of American Publishers reported how English-language titles – both print and digital – were flourishing. 

For print the growth areas are instructive. These by ranking order:

“UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and Singapore. The countries with the greatest year-to-year increases in print revenue were the Philippines, the UK, France, Colombia and the United Arab Emirates.”

For ebooks:

“The revenue-generating territories were led by Europe, followed by the UK and then closely by the territory including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. The top countries contributing to eBook sales were the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Norway and Switzerland. Germany showed the greatest year-on-year revenue gains while New Zealand, Spain, Italy, South Africa and Brazil also contributed significant eBook revenue gains.”

Remember, this is English-language titles.

As the APP report says,

Asia is a thriving market for US publishers for several reasons. English-language literacy, already important in a number of Asian countries, is rapidly growing among populations in more countries including China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Also, the Asian market places strong emphasis on education and English Language Teaching (ELT), and books from US Children’s/Young Adult publishers are considered critical to long term education investments.”

Most indies are sharing in almost none of this growth.

Why? Basically, myopic thinking and too heavy a reliance on handful of retail outlets.

As per bold above, Asia is a big growth area for English-language titles.

China may not be the easiest place to sell our ebooks, and if you are exclusive with Amazon you won’t be seeing much action in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore or the Philippines, but Kobo will get you into the biggest ebook store in the Philippines, and both e-Sentral and Google Play will get you in front of readers in all four countries.

China? Not yet.

But HarperCollins is about to rake in a whole load more cash following a new agreement with one of China’s stop retailers, JD – second only to Alibaba in Chinese e-commerce.

Significantly, HarperCollins has just signed a deal with JD solely dedicated to selling HarperCollins’s ENGLISH-LANGUAGE ebooks in the Chinese market.

HarperCollins are actually quite late to the party. OverDrive signed a deal to get ebooks into China back in August 2013. Sorry, if you’re in OverDrive through Smashwords you won’t be there.

That said, several western aggregators have been looking at gaining access to the lucrative China market, and at least one has an announcement pending, but the details are still under wraps.

Here just to say, when the opportunity comes, grab it!

Ironically it is Amazon, the store that blocks downloads to most of Asia (Japan aside) that has the best foothold in China right now. But we indies aren’t invited to the party. Yes, Amazon sells ebooks in China, but you won’t find Kindle CN anywhere in your KDP dashboard.

Amazon has been in China since 2004, when it brought Joyo for $75 million, but has never got off the ground properly. No official stats, of course, but pundits generally agree China is one of the biggest drains on the Zon.

One reason might be their refusal to glocalize.

Take a look at the China site. The content and prices are in Mandarin, true, but check out the framework of the site and it’s exactly the same as the US site and every other site (check out Nook UK for a fine example of how not to treat foreigners as an afterthought), and Amazon haven’t even been bothered to translate the most basic navigation tools, like the sign-in button.

Chinese users with no familiarity with the Latin alphabet might be able to guess where to sign in, but what will they make of “Today’s Deals”, “Gift cards” or “Sell”?

Amazon have thoughtfully translated the information on these pages, so if you click through it will all make sense. But if you don’t speak English you won’t know where to click through in the first place. The bottom bars of the home page are almost completely in English, even though linking to important information like payment methods . Go figure.

But be in no doubt there’s a demand for English-language books in China.

A look at the Kindle CN bestsellers list is instructive.

At #12 in the top 100 free on Kindle China is a public domain HG Wells title, in English, and at #18 a Sherlock Holmes anthology, again in English. And several more public domain classics, in English, in the Top 100 Free chart.

No English-language titles in the Top 100 paid chart, but that may be more down to availability than lack of interest. Clearly HarperCollins think there is plenty of demand for English-language originals in China, and a look at the imported print and Kindle books section throws up all the usual big names, as well as some surprising ones.

A common reaction to any discussion about the Chinese book market is that there is so much state censorship that nothing western will be allowed through.

Well, each country has laws and those laws will be enforced. There’s a lot of material on Smashwords, for example, that would be illegal in the UK and would have us Brits arrested if we were caught downloading it.

But let’s not assume China is still some sort of no-go area for western ideas. Those days are long gone. It’s 2014, not 1984.

Speaking of which…

George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic 1984 is readily available. In fact the Kindle addition is just 18 yuan and it has over 350 five star reviews. Assuming the ratio of reviews to sales is similar to the US then that suggests some serious sales numbers. Orwell’s anti-Stalinist Animal Farm has almost 500 five star reviews, and sells for less than 6 yuan.

The Chinese ebook market is already massive. At least second to the US. Possibly bigger. There are many dollar-equivalent millionaire indies in China right now, and just a matter of time before the first western indies breakout there and win the biggest lottery on the planet.

Don’t fall for the media propaganda that China is living in some sort of time-warp and is way behind the west. China is already ahead in many ways, and is at least keeping up in others.

Take social media as an example. Yes, they use Facebook and twitter in China, but they also have their home-grown versions. And how!

Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of twitter, has 148 million active monthly users. That’s twice the population of the UK.

WeChat in China has 350 million active users each month. That’s more than the entire population of the USA!

Sounds impressive until you consider that Tencent has 800 million active monthly users. At one point in April this year Tencent had an incredible 200 million users online at the same time!

A reminder that we at Ebook Bargains UK regard S.E. Asia as THE most exciting region on the planet right now, ranking China, along with India, Indonesia and the Philippines, as key Asian markets we should all be paying close attention to.

Think about the next five years, not the next five weeks.

These markets won’t pay tomorrow’s lunch. But they will be a great addition to your pension plan.



3 responses to “China In Your Hands. The Global English-Language Book Market

  1. I think this is very valuable info and have retweeted it.

  2. Pingback: Almost Two Billion. That’s How Many People On The Planet Could Be Reading Your Ebooks. | Ebook Bargains UK Blog

  3. Pingback: The View From The Beach – Mark Williams At Large | Ebook Bargains UK Blog

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