Sunday, August 19, 2007

A publishing phenomenon in China

Aventurina King at Wired is reporting on a publishing phenomenon in China, where free web access to novels has spurred record sales of printed books.

Literary sites like Source of Chinese and Magic Sword invite authors to upload their novels onto the web, where they might get noticed by an avid audience of young readers and eventually by publishers. King tells the history of Zhang Muye's serialized novel Ghost Blows out the Light, which has been "viewed more than 6 million times online" and has "sold 600,000 in print," and of another novel titled Killing Immortals that was launched online before selling over a million copies.

This is a collaboration of media that provides opportunities for emerging writers, increases revenues for the sites and for the publishers, and broadens readership. King mentions that "writing and reading novels has become the hobby of an estimated 10 million youth." The trend also strikes a balance between the "wisdom of the crowd" in determining pop-culture merit and old-fashioned editorial gatekeeping, since site publishers can identify the best novels to present only on their for-pay "VIP section."

The trend even contains a hint of throwback to the Victorian age, with its rage for serialized epic-length stories:

In the print world, book length is limited by the cost of paper, printing and distribution. On the Internet, where production costs are close to zero, length equals profit. VIP readers pay a couple of cents for every thousand characters (a print novel generally has 250,000 characters). Contracted authors are paid seven to 12 dollars per thousand characters, depending on their clout.

I've been arguing for years that hypertext does not represent any threat to the book. Here's a case of the web's influence to preserve a traditional aesthetic in writing while revolutionizing the economics of publishing, for the benefit of writers and publishers and the public.

Nor is it in the least surprising that the audience is willing to buy the books they can acquire at a lower price or even for free online. The pleasure of reading, especially fiction and poetry, continues to require the physical page. In his essay "Visible and Invisible Books" that appeared in The Future of the Page, University of Virginia's Jerome McGann points out that:

The history of the book medium and the development of fictional conventions within that medium have evolved an extraordinarily nuanced and flexible set of tools for the imagination. The truth is that the 'hyper' media powers of the book, in this area of expression if not prima facie, far outstrip the available resources of digital instruments.


China Law Blog said...

Wonder if any of this might also apply to software in China where people oftentimes start out with a fake and then like it so much they want the real thing.

Robin Mizell said...


An email message I sent to you five months ago was probably misdirected to an old ISP. You posted a call, which I heeded, for volunteers to contribute to JFS’s civic writing project.

I also managed to overlook your blog until now. How did that happen? Shame on me. I’ll stay tuned and hope you continue to post.

It sounds like you don’t have a spare moment, but I’d like to hear more about your novel. My “infelicitous phrasing” can be found over on WordPress.

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