The era of Chinese e-books…

I recently signed a series of deals to translate and publish the writings of three English writers as Chinese e-books, to be sold in my own Chinese e-book shop. So that is the work for the rest of this year taken care of.

It seems the era of Chinese e-books is about to begin. Recent rumors from the Chinese media indicate that Amazon’s Kindle is likely to arrive in China by the end of this year, that Kindle’s Chinese name will be jin du, which roughly means “Golden Read”, and that Amazon has ruled out cooperating with local content providers. The question is: How many e-books currently sold by Amazon will be deemed by the Chinese Government as suitable for the Chinese readers?

Other important questions include: If Amazon is going to provide the Chinese content, then how? And how is Kindle going to compete against Apple’s iPad and various Android-based tablets? Can Amazon introduce a version of Kindle that is user-friendly and cheap enough to attract the Chinese users, who currently spend most of their time reading on their mobile phones? What will be the details regarding the transfer and protection of authors’ rights?

From a different perspective, industry insiders in Taiwan recently noted that various UK and US publishers have started licensing the e-rights of their popular titles to Greater China. While these publishers do not specifically ask in the contracts for any royalty payment for the e-rights, they do demand to have the Chinese translation of the titles for free. Could this be to pave the way for direct sales of Chinese e-books by Western publishers in the future?

Lots of new issues have emerged. Any agency able to offer “service packages” that combine translation, publishing, marketing and sales will prosper in the future Chinese e-book market. New platforms will be established and new technologies developed to cater for the influx of new content from the West, and questions will be asked in terms of digital rights management, quality control and performance measurement. The true dominance of the global e-book market is likely to be established by the one e-reader or e-reading software that is able to reach the greatest number of Chinese readers.

The key issue will be whether publishers in Greater China can quickly take the necessary steps to adapt to digital publishing, and whether literary agents across the world can negotiate the best royalty rates for authors. While Chinese readers are keen to read the latest bestsellers from the West, whose eventual arrival will no doubt boost the Chinese e-book market considerably, Western publishers, agents and authors are equally eager to sell. The winner in the end will be the middleman that is able to satisfy the needs of both sides.

Great opportunities for authors, you lot. As Margaret Atwood so wisely pointed out at O’Reilly’s “Tools of Change” publishing conference in New York back in February 2011, authors are the “primary source” in the publishing “food chain” that sustains many other “life forms”, in the same way that “when a moose dies, it feeds over three dozen other species”. Long live the moose!

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