Shuguang Gong on Rescuing Reading: An Interview

In Opinion & Commentary by Guest Contributor

The chairman of China South Publishing & Media Group, one of China’s largest media companies, discussed his commitment to preserving reading culture in China and around the world.
Mr. Shuguang Gong, Chairman of China South Publishing & Media Group, spoke at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016

Shuguang Gong, Chairman of China South Publishing & Media Group, spoke at Frankfurt Book Fair about his company’s initiatives to promote reading.

By the Editors of China Publishers Magazine

Is the rapidly developing digital publishing technology really the face-to-face “enemy” to traditional publishing? Against the increasingly competitive background of internet entertainment, how should Chinese publishers defend the space originally reserved for reading books?

On October 19, Frankfurt Book Fair’s Business Club welcomed Shuguang Gong, the Chairman of China South Publishing & Media, one of the largest publishers in China and among the leading media companies in the world. He was interviewed by Claudia Kaiser, Vice President of Frankfurt Book Fair, before an international audience. Gong shared his insights on reading and publishing during this interview, titled “The Rescue of Reading.”

Shuguang Gong: I want to talk about reading. During the last two years when I was traveling around the world and communicating with many publishing business managers, I deeply felt that they had a common concern about future publishing. Almost all managers were talking about ebooks and online book retailers. Just half an hour ago, I met the CEO of Germany’s largest distribution group, and we were still talking about these topics. But these topics in my opinion are a bit like the Chinese saying that fear is often greater than the danger. I want to tell you that the biggest enemies of today’s traditional publishing are not ebooks, online book retailers or ubiquitous self-publishing, but online entertainment and numerous entertainment products derived from it.

Essentially, the convenience that the internet brings to publishing is far less than that to other forms of entertainment. In a sense, the internet belongs to entertainment. In Europe, there are still many restrictions like taxes on ebooks and online book retailers, so the European readers are not yet fully enjoying the convenience of it. However, these restrictions do not exist in China. It can be said that the benefits of online technology that Chinese readers enjoy now is among the highest in the world.

“Our recognition, respect and understanding of Western culture now are far beyond that of Western culture’s regard for Chinese culture.”Shuguang Gong

Traditional paper books are becoming more beautiful and profound in China. Chinese readers also have ubiquitous access to cheap ebooks. Our country’s reading environment is convenient for consumers. Despite these advantages, the number of Chinese readers is still declining year by year. I believe that the situation in China today will also be the tomorrow of Europe, the United States, and other countries around the world.

Rescuing reading is certainly not just an issue for the publishing industry; it should be a systematic project for every country in the world. It depends on the government’s advocacy, national policy support, efforts from insights and education and other fields. Only with the cooperation of various fields, it is possible to save the reading situation of the whole society.

As a deputy to the National People’s Congress, I have talked about national reading more than once, calling on the government to provide a better environment for reading. It now appears that such calls are gradually becoming policy realities. As a member of the publishing industry, I think the publishing industry should do something to save the reading. It is an issue that publishers cannot afford to ignore.

Claudia Kaiser: What kinds of actions is China South Publishing & Media Group taking to rescue reading?

SG: With regards to promoting reading, different people may have different choices and methods. For China South Publishing & Media, we focus on two aspects to promote and preserve reading.

The first is to promote works with original ideas that enhance and appeal to contemporary culture. Generations growing up in the internet era are more removed from traditional culture. They are only familiar with their current culture and only interested in works that reflect their environment. If there are no original works that younger readers can connect with, they will be pushed away from reading.

The second aspect we focus on is developing cross-media entertainment to increase the diversity of reading options. Entertainment is ubiquitous online. Taking an offensive approach, publishers must adapt to this online environment and meet readers’ expectations.

In this regard, many efforts from China South Publishing & Media have begun to bear fruit. We are not only continuously putting effort into traditional publishing, but we have also established a number of internet publishing companies. We cooperate with internationally renowned groups in the field of online reading, distribution and copyright transactions.

Specifically, we already have three digital education companies, with annual sales of more than 1 billion yuan, and we have two vertical information websites with revenue of more than 200 million yuan. We are currently working with an international group to set up online copyright trading platform, and some European and American companies to cooperate on online reading.

CK: In Europe, there are a lot of foundations for the purpose of promoting reading, and they organize or sponsor a lot of reading-related activities. In the field of reading promotion, what specific activities or projects has China South Publishing & Media implemented?

SG: In this regard, the customs of China and Europe may not be the same. Compared with Europe’s common reading foundations, reading promotion in China takes place in the form of specific funding or donations from individual enterprises.

For example, China South Publishing & Media donates 50 million yuan worth of books each year for the children in poor areas. We have also donated tens of millions of yuan to education and other public welfare foundations to promote children’s reading. Our donations have also helped establish classrooms, libraries, and electronic reading rooms for schools in poor areas. Our own public fund, called “Morning Fund,” was set up for the specific implementation of these public welfare activities.

CK: Many Chinese publishers working more actively in the field of rights and licenses, but we don’t see many Chinese works sold abroad. China has a lot of literary works worth promoting. What do you think about this situation, and how would you improve sales of Chinese rights abroad?

SG: Yesterday at the airport, I sighed: there could be so many Chinese publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but some publishers may lack the motivation to expand their business overseas.

Another reason for this phenomenon is that our recognition, respect and understanding of Western culture now are far beyond that of Western culture’s regard for Chinese culture. This deficit is narrowing, but a radical change will take time. Although this is not a problem that publishing industry can solve alone, Chinese publishers are in duty-bound to work toward improving this situation.

I would like to emphasize in particular that it is should be the mission of Chinese publishers and global publishers to provide readers with more access to Chinese culture.

At present, more Chinese publishing companies, including China South Publishing & Media, are cooperating with the major publishing groups in the world, both for the purpose of introducing the excellent culture of each country and promoting Chinese through this channel of cooperation.

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