China’s Book Market: 2018 in Review and December’s Bestsellers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

OpenBook data reveals China’s bestselling authors of 2018, growing online book sales, and the strength of backlist titles.

In 2018, OpenBook reports, the Chinese market saw a sharp continuation of backlist’s popularity among consumers over new titles. Chart: OpenBook / Trajectory

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

Online Over Physical Sales, Backlist Over New Titles
In 2018, the value of China’s retail book market reached 89.4 billion yuan (US$13.2 billion), according to Beijing’s OpenBook research. That revenue is based on units sold at list price and may not reflect discounted sales.

In that light, 2018 saw an increase in the overall book market’s value of 11.3 percent over that of 2017.

Chart: OpenBook/Trajectory

Online bookselling continues to grow in China, in 2018 at a rate of 24.7 percent. That growth rate, however, shows a mild slowdown, according to OpenBook, and a valuation in online sales of some 57.3 billion yuan (US$79.1 billion).

By contrast, OpenBook reports, physical bookstores in China reported an aggregate negative growth rate, down 6.69 percent in 2018 over 2017. Sales in physical stores reached some 32.1 billion yuan (US$4.8 billion).

The online bookstore channel in China, according to researchers at OpenBook, began to build its place in the Chinese market in 2008 and has moved rapidly, gaining at more than 20 percent annually. The speed of online retail’s movement in the market is attributed largely to price discounts which may average as much as 38 percent off list pricing.

Chart: OpenBook / Trajectory

As Publishing Perspectives reported in our coverage of the OpenBook “Reading X” conference held in Beijing earlier this month, the company saw 156,000 new trade books released in 2018. This reflects a trend in which backlist has become steadily more important in China, with a corresponding decline in new-title publication. OpenBook tells us for our report today (January 21) that new book production was first detected to be falling below 30 percent of market action in 2008, and by 2015 new books’ publication had dropped to below 20 percent of sales.

This is frequently reflected in our reportage of China’s bestsellers. (Our December 2018 bestseller charts are below.) Both in our overall and foreign-author charts and in fiction and nonfiction, classic titles are firmly entrenched in the interests of Chinese readers, and even relatively contemporary work can stay on charts for years once is popularity is established. Reissued titles are a mainstay of the lists, as well.

In this sense, China’s market is rather slow moving: while its overall growth is robust, favored titles really latch onto the charts and show enormous tenacity among consumers. And in an interesting note, OpenBook’s staffers say they’ve discerned a mounting resistance to new titles in the Top-10 space. In 2015, eight titles of the Top 10 were new. In 2018 only three titles in the Top 10 were new, and of those, two were nonfiction (Liang Jia He and You Bad by DaBing) and one was a children’s book.

This means that no new adult fiction entered the Top 10 bestseller list in China in 2018.

Chart: OpenBook / Trajectory

Bestselling Authors in China 2018

‘Xiao Mao Ri Li by 2018 top author Yang HongYing

Yang HongYing remains the bestselling author for 2018 in China. Since 2000, Yang HongYing ‘s works have become bestselling children’s books, including titles from the writer’s campus novels series,  the “Naughty Boy Ma Xiaotiao” series, and the “Diary Of A Smiling Cat” series.

Japan’s Higashino Keigo remains far and away the bestselling author of fiction books in 2018. He has 12 titles listed on the annual fiction bestselling Top 100.

The nonfiction author of 2018 was by Da Bing. Since 2014, he has published a new title every year. Each one went into the Top 30 of the fiction bestseller within a month of publication.

Among new writers spotted in 2018, OpenBook recommends keeping an eye on a nonfiction writing group known as the TF Boys.

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from (month) of bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction, followed by its lists of bestselling fiction and nonfiction in China by authors from outside the country.

At the end of our article, as always, you’ll find notes on how the lists are constructed.

OpenBook’s Fiction Bestsellers in China, December 2018
November 2018 Ranking December 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
2 2 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
3 3 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 4 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
5 5 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
6 6 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
7 7 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 8 9787540487676 2018-07 Used to be Alone Rui Xi Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 9 9787541151736 2018-12 Uninhibited Mo Xiang Tong Xiu Sichuan Literature & Art Press
10 10 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
9 11 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 12 9787541151460 2018-11 Stage Wait Li Dan Sichuan Literature & Art Press
12 13 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 14 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 15 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
13 16 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
16 17 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787540487522 2018-10 Cry Me a Sad River (2018 Edition) Guo Jingming Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 19 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 20 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 21 9787506365680 2012-12 Chronicle of a Blood Merchant Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
18 22 9787539971810 2015-04 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
24 23 9787540458027 2013-10 I Belonged to You Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 24 9787020127894 2017-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
19 25 9787550024212 2017-09 Trespassers Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
26 26 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
20 27 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
21 28 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 29 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Shanghai Translation Publishing House
23 30 9787530211564 2012-03 Life Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, December 2018
November 2018 Ranking December 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
Not Ranked 1 9787540481551 2018-11 The Emotional Quotient Lesson of Kevin Tsai: Live for Yourself for One Time Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 2 9787510842344 2016-03 All the Lost Will Be Repaid in Another Way Geng Shuai Jiuzhou Press
12 3 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
7 4 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
1 5 9787201094014 2015-09 Six Records of a Floating Life Shen Fu Tianjin People’s Publishing House
22 6 9787540467784 2014-06 The Art of Speaking of Kevin Tsai Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 7 9787540468316 2014-07 The Art of Speaking of Kevin Tsai (2) Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
21 8 9787503561634 2017-08 Xi Jinping’s Seven Years as an Educated Youth Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
8 9 9787549550173 2014-01 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
19 10 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
2 11 9787540487669 2018-05 You Are Bad Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
4 12 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Er Hunzi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
5 13 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
15 14 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
6 15 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Er Hunzi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
3 16 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
Not Ranked 17 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
14 18 9787508692098 2018-07 21 Lessons for the 21st Century Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
10 19 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787559401007 2017-04 Good Loneliness Chen Guo Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 21 9787535488473 2016-05 Walk Alone Freely Jia Pingwa Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co.,Ltd.
11 22 9787540481827 2017-08 Gag Reel Li Dan Hunan Literature & Art Press
25 23 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Hunan Science & Technology Press
16 24 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
27 25 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal Cultural Development Publishing House
18 26 9787549550159 2014-01 My Child, Just Take Your Time Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
13 27 9787108009821 1998-07 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang SDX Joint Publishing Company
Not Ranked 28 9787224127232 2018-04 Liangjiahe Editing Group for Liangjiahe Shaanxi People’s Publishing House
20 29 9787550263932 2015-11 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
24 30 9787549564125 2015-04 Dear Andrea Long Yingtai,Andreas Walther Guangxi Normal University Press

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers in China, December 2018
November 2018 Ranking December 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
2 1 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 2 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
1 3 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
8 4 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 5 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 6 9787539971810 2015-04 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
10 7 9787550024212 2017-09 Trespassers Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
6 8 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 9 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 10 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 11 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 12 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
16 13 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
11 14 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 15 9787544749398 2015-01 The Catcher in the Rye Jerome David Salinger United States of America Yilin Press
Not Ranked 16 9787544277723 2015-06 Tokio Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 17 9787544258210 2017-10 Naoko Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 18 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787544265591 2013-08 Snow Country Yasunari Kawabata Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 20 9787530218198 2018-07 The Clown of House Juji Higashino Keigo Japan Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, December 2018
November 2018 Ranking December 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
3 2 9787508692098 2018-07 21 Lessons for the 21st Century Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
7 3 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
6 4 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
5 5 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
4 6 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
2 7 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
11 8 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
18 9 9787300126210 2010-09 Mao: A Biography Ross Terrill United States of America China Renmin University Press
12 10 9787535733597 2002-02 The Universe in a Nutshell Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
9 11 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
10 12 9787301110522 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
14 13 9787514208788 2013-07 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
13 14 9787544762885 2016-04 84, Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff United States of America Yilin Press
16 15 9787544768559 2017-07 Souvenirs Entomologiques Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre France Yilin Press
15 16 9787508650890 2015-05 Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 17 9787513903509 2014-11 Jerusalem: The Biography Simon Sebag Montefiore Britain Democracy and Construction Press
8 18 9787559407634 2018-03 Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things Jenny Lawson United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 19 9787544760850 2017-01 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland France Yilin Press
Not Ranked 20 9787308161459 2016-08 The Silk Roads: A New History of the World Peter Frankopan Britain Zhejiang Eniversity Press Co.,Ltd

Notes on the Charts

OpenBook is a privately owned industry-data research firm based in Beijing. It functions somewhat as Nielsen and NDP do from the West, and Nielsen Book Research International has worked with OpenBook in Asian operations. With authoritative data and information resources, OpenBook is able to deliver consulting service to partners who would like to explore the Chinese book market and identify suitable partners.

Trajectory, based near Boston, is an importer of Western-language ebooks and audiobooks into China. Trajectory is also helping China’s largest publishers export their books and audiobooks through a proprietary global ebook distribution network that includes hundreds of retailers as well as library and school distributors. Trajectory recently has added copyright services, both for content going into China and for exports from China to the rest of the world.

Up until July 1, 2018, this data has been estimated by OpenBook to represent some 50 percent of the total sales activity in China. OpenBook draws point-of-sale data from more than 6,000 bookstores in China, including a total 3,496 physical bookstores representative of all the provinces in China except Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.Retail outlets include:

  • Traditional bookstores
  • Supermarkets
  • Campus bookstores
  • “Professional” stores, said to be small stores with a specific industrial or trade focus
  • Airport stores

In addition, OpenBook is drawing data from online bookstores of three main types:

  • The “Tmall” stores of Alibaba (Tmall is described as a marketplace of companies that create storefronts online to sell products including books)
  • The “JingDong” Stores of JD.com (similar to Tmall as a marketplace of both individual companies and bookstores operated by JD.com)
  • Ten independent online bookselling retailers

China has some 500 or more publishers in operation today. Most of them, Trajectory CEO James Bryant clarifies, are government-owned. Private publishers are required to purchase ISBNs for their titles from a publishing company that is government-owned—which, in other words, creates a system in which all ISBNs are in one way or another registered through government channels. The government approves each book published in China.


More of China bestseller reports from Publishing Perspectives are here.

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 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.