By Edward Nawotka
One segment of the exhibition that is likely to be of enormous interest to Western publishers visiting the Beijing International Book Fair is ebooks. Last year at the BIBF, Penguin made headlines when it became the first Western publisher to announce an ebook distribution deal for English language titles in China, and it’s likely that this year will bring even more announcements, as the growing popularity of English as a second language in China and the relatively high cost of imported English-language books makes the prospect of relatively low-cost English language titles very appealing to Chinese book buyers.
Penguin’s partner in distribution is Beijing-based Founder Apabi Group. That company, the leading ebook vendor in China, now has some 400,000 ebook titles available for Chinese readers. In 2008, it sold 2.565 billion RMB ($375 million) of online digital products, which include books, newspapers, and magazines.
E-readers are relatively scarce in China but should become increasingly more popular as prices are driven down by new products entering the market. Among the most popular devices at the moment is the iRex Iliad, which reads Founder Apabi’s proprietary format, and despite a cost of 8,000 RMB ($1,000) sells some 50,000 units per month (according to Apabi). Look for possible news from the Fair about Apabi’s own proprietary reader — a device which looks shockingly similar to Amazon’s Kindle 2 — which is scheduled to hit stores later this year and retail for a far more pocket friendly 2,000 RMB ($250).