UK’s Publishers Association Reports on Journals in China

In News by Porter Anderson

China ‘is funding 20 new English-language journals a year,’ according to the UK’s Publishing Association report out this week. At the same time, concern is expressed about ‘ideological control.’
PA Market Report cover

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Likely to Overtake America’
With the Beijing International Book Fair in session through Sunday (August 28), the UK’s Publishers Association (PA) has made a timely release of a new report on the Chinese journals market.

The PA’s first such study—a full copy has been provided to Publishing Perspectives—was produced with the British Council in 2003, and it was followed two years later by a report on Chinese academics’ views of Western journals. “Since then, both the journals market within China and the place of Chinese research in the global scholarly community have changed fundamentally,” according to the new report’s introduction text. “This is therefore an entirely new report” that was previewed by a smaller 2015 document.

Chu Xiaoying

Chu Xiaoying

The authors of the new report are Chu Xiaoying, Vice General Manager of Charlesworth China, and Prof. Paul Richardson, who established the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies in 1994 and regularly contributes to China Publishing Today.

According to commentary provided in the text of the report, “China produces more research papers than any other nation apart from the United States and accounts for about one-fifth of the world’s most-cited papers.” The States, we’re told, accounts for some 23 percent of such citations, the UK and Germany coming in at some 6 percent, ahead of Japan and Korea.

The Chinese journals market, the report says, is divided into four categories of journals: imported subscriptions mainly in English; locally reprinted or Chinese editions of international journals; locally published journals in English; and locally published journals in Mandarin.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the study’s text involves the role of the state in research papers in China. Chu Xiaoying and Richardson credit the government with recognizing “the need to fund high-level research and research publications on the global stage” and wanting research “to become more ‘blue sky’ and innovative.”

Paul Richardson

Paul Richardson

But “on the other hand,” they write, “the authorities find it hard to let go. Funding tends to be centralized and bureaucratic and to rely on mechanistic procedures in terms of evaluating quality and impact. There is a heavy-handed superstructure of ideological control and a range of regulations to foreign publishing or Internet presence in China. This conflict between the unleashing of Chinese creativity and the urge to retain control has still to be resolved.”

Conceding concern “within both the Chinese and international academic communities about research misconduct,” the authors of the report list a series of market trends that seem particularly instructive. Among them:

  • There’s a perceived shift among Chinese journals toward “publishing content online first and digitizing their legacy materials back to the first volume.”
  • “Big publishers have launched or will launch their own publishing platforms,” looking to gain independence from aggregators and international partners.
  • “New English journals,” Richardson and Chu Xiaoying write, are “springing up like mushrooms.
  • “High-impact English journals, especially STM titles,” the authors write, are increasing in number. “185 Chinese journals were included in the 2016 Journal Citation Report (JCR) report (SCIE),” the report tells us, “including 16 for the first time, 12 more than the 173 in 2014, and 23 more than the 162 in 2013.”
  • “Chinese social media, especially WeChat,” the study authors write, “are playing a more and more important role in scholarly communication. Researchers use it to communicate ideas and share information; publishers use it for marketing and even delivering selected articles; librarians set up mobile libraries to provide better services to users.”
  • With so much understandable interest in English-language material baked into a study made by the UK’s association, it’s worth noting that the authors write a cautionary bit of commentary here: “Although internalization has been the focal point, Chinese-language journals are still the majority and developing along different routes. Some want to gain international readership and impact by translating selected papers, having English abstracts, figures and tables. Applied journals are developing information hubs to attract users in industry and provide services.”
The overall report, 136 pages in length, is detailed and dense with contextual expertise, and the Publishers Association, in a prepared statement offers highlights, among them:
  • China spends more than 2 percent of its GDP on research and development, challenging the USA in purchasing power parity terms and putting it ahead of the EU.
  • The Chinese journal market is worth around 24 billion yuan (approximately US$3.6 billion) with more than 2.1 billion yuan (US$3 million) imported foreign journals and digital publications.
  • There is some evidence of bias against Chinese research outcomes in the international journals market, with a higher than average rate of rejection.
  • There is strong government support for the publication of new journals in English in China to raise China’s international profile.

The PA’s report asserts that while in 2000, China spent about what France did on research and development, it now spends “more than the 28 European Union member states combined” and is “likely to overtake America in the next couple of years” in article output and international citations.

“All the major Western journals publishers from RELX and Springer Nature to Oxford and Cambridge University Presses,” according to the PA’s news statement, “now operate in China, with RELX alone employing more than 200 people in the sector, despite government restrictions.”

Members of the PA can access the report at the association’s site. Non-members are offered a chance to purchase the report for £85 (US$112) in the association bookstore.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.