It seems that the Chinese e-reader industry is ready to take off, but the industry's future depends on the contents provided by publishers. The good news is an increasing number of publishers are making a push into the emerging business. But they have yet to find a proven path to profitability for e-books in China. In recent interviews with Beijing Review reporter Ding Wenlei, four Beijing-based publishers talked about moves they have made, as well as the prospects for e-books in China. Edited excerpts follow:
Li Xinshe, Editor-in-Chief of the Publishing House of lectronics Industry:
The vibrant growth of e-books is bringing unlimited opportunities to traditional publishing industry. But when turning paper books into electronic ones, you have to take into consideration the reading habits of consumers, and design and market the books to cater to their specific needs.
I do not think e-books will cast a shadow over traditional books, since they are just different forms of information carriers. Traditional publishers are supposed to take full advantage of opportunities to consolidate their market foothold. Maybe in three to five years, those who miss the opportunities will end up losing ground.
Riding the wave of e-books, we have established an electronic publishing center this year. But it will be quite difficult to break even, due to a fledgling market. In the United States, which boasts a long history of Internet access, there is a solid customer base that will pay for e-book downloads. But in China we should have patience.
Ma Jie, Director of Information with the People's Publishing House:
Print publishing's dominance is set to wane, but is unlikely to perish. Chances are e-books will coexist with paper books in the very long term, and each form will enjoy comparable market shares. But the influence of e-books will grow and they will eventually play a dominant role.
Whether and when the Ministry of Education will promote educational e-books nationwide is crucial to such changes. Technically, we will need five to 10 years to address security and stability concerns over e-books, in order to convince the Ministry of Education that e-books are right for students. This is expected to spur a fundamental change in the reading habits of the next generation.
The People's Publishing House has made solid efforts to publish e-books. In cooperation with manufacturers of e-book readers, we adhere to our own designs, rather than using a one-size-fits-all technology solution. In addition, we hired a couple of technicians first and, with their help, determined a feasible plan. We then divided our needs into different functions and selected best solution for each one.
Ge Xiaozheng, Vice President of the Chinese Writers' Publishing Group:
E-books will not replace print publications, as large numbers of readers are accustomed to reading print materials, but we must embrace the electronic trend without reservation.
E-book publishing will be one of the group's major works in the future. We have entered an agreement with China Mobile to publish content on mobile phones.
There are problems to be addressed in publishing e-books. Readers of e-books are much younger than those of print publications, particularly in literature. As a result, we have first to address the age differences when working on e-editions, otherwise, the chances for success will be slim. For example, we can cut full-length novels into short stories, which are easier to read.
E-books may impact the sales of printed versions. But there are some ways to cushion the impact, such as publishing the two versions at different times and in different lengths.
Zhen Qiang, Assistant to Editor-in-Chief with the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press:
E-books will first threaten those specialized books, which have a small number of target readers and bring little profit to traditional publishers. But e-books have given them a chance to shine. For ordinary subjects, however, it remains to be seen how e-books will influence people's reading habits. Educational books will be the last to be impacted in China, since schools, teachers, parents and government officials are all involved in decisions regarding textbooks.
In a move to tap into the e-book industry, we built up a book resource center last year.
Designing a product that customers are willing to pay for is a major issue. For example, we unexpectedly found that our customers are willing to pay for an e-dictionary product embedded in the storage disc of mobile phones than to download it from websites.