At Frankfurt’s ‘The Markets’ Conference: OpenBook Director Jiang Yanping

In News by Porter Anderson

Having spent its first decade compiling book sales data and educating the Chinese publishing market on how to use it, Jiang Yanping’s OpenBook today is Beijing’s leading publishing industry research company.

Jiang Yanping. Image: OpenBook

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

‘A Lot of Pent-Up Demand’
During Tuesday’s (October 9) agenda-setting The Markets conference at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, a panel of specialists will take up the day’s theme of revenue models, with insights into key regions of the world’s publishing activity.

The panel, following a keynote address by HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne, will feature Neilsen’s Andre Breedt (UK), Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Albanese (USA), the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels’ Kyra Dreher (Germany),’s Pablo Laurino (Argentina), and OpenBook general manager Jiang Yanping (China).

Jiang, whose Beijing-based OpenBook has become the authoritative source of Chinese book publishing industry data since its founding two decades ago, is an adjunct professor at the Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication. She also serves as an active advisor to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television.

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with the work of OpenBook, as it’s Jiang’s staffers, in association with the US-based Trajectory, who collate and interpret for us the data behind our monthly China bestsellers reports.

In talking to her about her observations ahead of next week’s conference in Frankfurt, we begin by asking what career paths Jiang had followed prior to her work in founding and running OpenBook.

‘I Liked the People in the Book Industry’

Jiang Yanping: I had worked in the real estate industry and in the medical industry before OpenBook. I liked the people in the book industry. It’s an area of the economy that helps us grow and feel happy and meaningful when we’re working.

Publishing Perspectives: How long ago was OpenBook started? And how has OpenBook expanded in order to keep up with the growing Chinese book market?

“By 2000, we could confirm that the Chinese market was growing very quickly—at rates of almost 30 percent per year.”Jiang Yanping, OpenBook

JY: OpenBook was started in 1998, and it took time for us to accumulate enough data to discern long-term tendencies in the market. By 2000, we could confirm from the data that the market was growing very quickly–at rates of almost 30 percent per year—and that this growth was likely to continue for many years.

Much of this was influenced by China’s accession to the World Trade Organization [on December 11, 2001]. There had been a lot of pent-up demand for books before that, and the new policies being implemented then clearly led our publishing houses to meet that demand.

We actually didn’t need to expand our business for the first 10 years. That was a time for us to educate the book industry in terms of how to use our data in order to discover the needs and interests of readers, as well as to improve their management practices.

PP: When you look at the Chinese market, what would you say are the main challenges?

JY: There are three main challenges faced today by China’s publishers:

  1. The Internet has made it both possible and necessary for a publishing house to reach out to its readers. But that means that publishers now are  competing  for those readers, and for their coming prosperity, with distributors and retail companies that are Internet giants. And those giants try to provide content for readers, themselves.
  2. There’s also a kind of intellectual strain on our people today, caused in part by both fast technological advances and by gaming. The speed of tech progress often means people don’t have time to digest enough information and this places huge pressures on individuals and society. And the games provide a place for people to escape these pressures, to try to avoid facing these realities. Most people nowadays don’t like focusing on something that involves much deep thinking. But a book is a product that involves much more thinking than video, films and games.
  3. And lastly, there’s a difficult balance for our publishers to hit, between the demands of readers and the requirements of our government.

PP: What do you see as the most interesting trends in China’s publishing industry in terms of revenue models? Have there been any bold experiments that you recall?

JY: Our publishers now are not satisfied with only the revenue from their books. And so they’re making efforts to diversify and generate more revenue from their authors and/or their content.

In some cases, publishers become the agents of their authors, helping the writers to book speaking engagements, to develop their intellectual property, and to build their own brands and firms. Publishers, then, try to control all the rights to authors’ content, and exploit those rights for development in film, television series, games, and so on.

What’s more, some publishers use their intellectual property to develop knowledge-specific “culture town” attractions, not unlike theme parks, to attract tourism. This is actually a real-estate business, and it’s in keeping with the main policy of the central government to help small cities and villages develop their economic structures. Think, for example, of a “science popularization town.”

PP: In our Western markets, we have a lot of “publishing startups.” How do such companies structure their revenue models in China?

“I would choose as a challenge in China’s industry, ‘How can we define a publisher and its core competence in the Internet age?'”Jiang Yanping, OpenBook

JY: There’s a lot of this because the book industry is charming. It’s an industry of intelligence and creative people can hope to work in it with small amounts of seed money to get started. We’ve all heard a lot of stories about people who “get rich quick” simply by publishing a very popular book.

We seem to see more startups currently related to online bookselling. Initially, there was no national distributor in China, and publishers had to wait for payment until retailers had sold their books. This was a lot of work for the publishers, basically functioning as their own distributors. They ended up having to make a lot of business trips and experienced enormous pressure in cash-flow. And this made the business more difficult for a startup because small companies had no ability to cover the national market as their own distributors, nor enough money to handle the job of product distribution and accounts receivable.

Now, with the help of these online bookstores, some startups are able to partner with Internet retailers for much lower distribution costs and much earlier payments.

There also are many startup companies providing content creation, knowledges services, and so on, based on the rise of the Internet.

PP: And, overall, can you define a key challenge for Chinese and/or other Asian publishers in 2018?

JY: I would choose as that theme, “How traditional publishers can use technology to restructure  business models and improve  services.” Or, “How can we define a publisher and its core competence in the Internet age?”

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About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he 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 (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.