By Wuping Zhao
While local publishers are eager to display their newly published physical books at the on-going Shanghai Book Fair (11 to 17 August), half a dozen hand-held reading device manufacturers are anxious to show their own products in a zone of the Fair organized just for them. To say the truth, those manufactures are not only anxious but also a little at loss. Rumor has it that at least two manufacturers have stopped promoting their own brand of e-readers — one of them is EDO Technologies, a Shanghai-based company and the other is Foxit Software.
“You are right that we stopped production of our own EDO Readers earlier this year,” Ding Huiwen, former general manager for EDO said when I met him yesterday at the Fair. His company had established a joint venture called Shanghai Yeahmore E-Reading Media Co. Ltd, with Shanghai Xinhua Media Co. Ltd. and Jie Fang Daily News & Media in April. The major outcome of this joint venture is an e-reader branded as “YEAHOMRE”. Without outside investment, EDO Technologies has a hard time promoting its own “EDO reader”, Ding explained.
Combining the book distribution channel of Xinhua Media and the news content from Jie Fang Daily Group, “YEAHMORE” e-reader strikingly attracts attentions from the industry. Prior to its launch at Shanghai Book Fair, Shanghai Century, the largest publishing group in the city, and Shanda Technology launched their own branded e-reading devices respectively in the past three months. It is reported 17 companies are involved in the developing service of digital reading in the city up to now. With the police support from the central government, Shanghai established Zhangjiang National Digital Publishing Base, which is the first one in the country, in March 2009.
Because the competition continues to heat up, and there is no proven business model, many manufacturers showed impatience in struggling e-reader market. In addition to EDO, Foxit Software, a Fuzhou- and Beijing-based company, also halted production of their Foxit eSlick reader last month, as confirmed in my interview with Fan Jin, its sales manager in Beijing yesterday.
“There will be about fifty to 100 Chinese e-reader manufacturers by the end of this year,” Liu Yingjian, CEO for the largest manufacturer Hanvon Technology predicted at an industry summit conference earlier this month. But Hanvon’s e-reader remains the most popular brand and its sales account for about 70 percent of the market.
In the wake of the price wars between Kindle and Nook, and the arrival of iPad, several Chinese manufacturers are considering to lower their prices, too. However, without a similar distribution channel like Amazon.com, most Chinese e-readers would not be able to offer services like buying and downloading e-books online. It is well known that Chinese consumers are accustomed to load their e-reading devices with pirated e-books from the web. Almost all bestsellers in China can be found online free of charge. Because of piracy concerns, most publishers are reluctant to delve too deep into digital publishing.
Wuping Zhao is the vice president for Shanghai Translation Publishing House. He joined Shanghai Century Publishing Group in 2001 and acquired many literary authors including T.S. Eliot, Christopher Isherwood, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak, Jack Kerouac, Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, Milan Kundera, Umberto Eco, Mario Vargas Llosa, J.G. Ballard, David Lodge, Elfriede Jelinek and Bernhard Schlink. He graduated from Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University in 2009. He won the fellowship from the Henry Luce Foundation and participated in the Yale-China’s program of American Studies at Yale University in 1999. Prior to his publishing career, he spent seven years as a book reporter at China Reading Weekly in Beijing.