China Bestsellers for February: ‘Paid-For Content’ in the Chinese Market

In Feature Articles by Porter AndersonLeave a Comment

Movie-driven science fiction tops China’s bestseller lists in February, and we have news on the fast rise of ‘paid-for content’ in China.

In Shenzhen, customers use their smartphones to pay for goods at a street booth, the sort of cashless payment that Zhao Zizhong spoke about at the 2019 London Book Fair’s Quantum conference in his presentation on ‘paid-for content.’ Image – iStockphoto: Yuelan

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

Content for a More Proactive Consumer
While not the material we track with the help of OpenBook’s research staff in Beijing, “paid-for content” is a significant sector of the Chinese market, as was clear from a presentation made at London Book Fair’s Quantum conference earlier this month.

Zhao Zizhong of the Communication University of China said in his address that one of the key factors in the development of the market for this material is that it responds to the shifting dynamics of the country’s highly digital consumer base. Among those elements:

  • A change in distribution channels, from television, radio, and traditional online communication to what Zhao defines as “knowledge-sharing platforms” such as Himalaya FM, a streaming audio content platform with 35 million paying users.
  • A transition in publicly recognized influencers, from film and television personalities to opinion leaders who build their reputations online: one example is Lou Zhenyu, whose lectures command almost 1.6 million followers on Weibo and some 12 million subscribers on WeChat.
  • A deep penetration in Chinese culture of mobile payments over cash apps like Alipay, WeChat Pay and other systems that make buying content faster and easier than before.
  • A distinctive switch in the customer base from something recognizable as a typical audience to a more proactive content-selecting consumer.

As an example of what paid-for content might be, Zhao used the Quantum audience itself at the Olympia London conference center, pointing out that the content of the day’s presentations and discussions might be bundled into a salable product and offered to those who attended and those who couldn’t as paid-for content.

Zhao Zizhong of the Communication University of China speaks at the 2019 London Book Fair Quantum conference, March 11. Image: Porter Anderson

“At present,” Zhao said, “China’s paid knowledge industry chain has formed a relatively complete upstream and downstream structure, consisting of upstream content providers, midstream incubators and service providers, as well as downstream paid knowledge-sharing platforms and users.

“China’s paid knowledge-sharing platforms vary in form and are capable of reaching a broad range of distribution and/or information-sharing channels. Despite certain functional overlap, these platforms can be broadly categorized into four types:

  • Community (based in selected interests)
  • Traffic-based (usually user-generated content)
  • Social-based (often led by influencers with large followings)
  • Tool-based (professionalized business applications used in corporate settings and with technical support)

“For publishing houses,” Zhao said, “China’s paid knowledge market is an unexcavated gold mine in potential opportunities. On the one hand, this is a market of with 1.2 billion potential consumers; on the other, global capital is promising and pouring in. At present, the scale of content-paying users in China continues to grow, from 48 million in 2015 to 292 million in 2018. The market size is expected to grow from 4.91 billion in 2017 to 23.51 billion in 2020.”

And the money?

“In the capital market,” Zhao said, “Himalayan FM, which is an [Key Opinion Leader] Papi Jiang received an investment of US $1.8 million.”

And in some cases, international partnerships are in place, he said, mentioning specifically one between Penguin Random House and Himalaya FM. The paid-for content providers, he said, are looking for content from Western suppliers.

Movie-Driven Science Fiction Tops China’s Lists in February

Liu Cixin’s ‘The Wandering Earth’

If anything, the rising tide of paid-for content means, as many Publishing Perspectives readers might realize, a new kind of competition to parts of the book industry–not least because, as our monthly charts indicate, China’s traditional bestseller lists change slowly and frequently include older material being cycled back through the charts.

For example, in February, we see Liu Cixin’s The Wandering Earth enter the fiction list at No. 5, and yet accompanying it was Liu’s best-known title, long a presence on many lists, the 2008 publication of The Three Body Problem, this time back up to No. 1 from January’s No. 3. As our associates at OpenBook point out to us, no fewer than six editions of Liu titles are in the Top 30 for February.

And at No. 4, you’ll see Yu Hua’s To Live at No. 4–after 11 consecutive months at No. 1.

The book-to-film track that we follow closely these days in the West is well in play in China, too. The film adaptation of Liu’s The Wandering Earth was released to time with the Chinese New Year holidays, so that it shot to the top with Wu Jing in its starring role and, as of March 5, more than 4.5 billion yuan at the box office, or US$669 million.

In nonfiction, we see that trend toward titles to cycle back onto the charts from before.

We saw in February the return to the lists of:

  • Jia Pingwa’s Walk Alone Freely, ranked No. 24
  • Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct (a new edition), ranked No. 27
  • Echo’s The Stories of the Sahara, ranked No. 29
  • Chai Jing’s Insight, ranked No. 30

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from February 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, February 2019
January 2019 Ranking February 2019 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
3 1 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 2 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
5 3 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
1 4 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 5 9787511360809 2016-06 The Wandering Earth Liu Cixin China Overseas Chinese Press
2 6 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
6 7 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
7 8 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
11 9 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 10 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
18 11 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
10 12 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
13 13 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
9 14 9787544760874 2016-10 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (New Edition) Jules Verne Yilin Press
17 15 9787541151736 2018-12 Uninhibited Mo Xiang Tong Xiu Sichuan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 16 9787229100605 2016-07 The Three-Body Problem (Collector’s Edition) Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
21 17 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 18 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
19 19 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
14 20 9787500680239 2009-01 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
Not Ranked 21 9787229100612 2016-07 The Dark Forest (Collector’s Edition) Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
16 22 9787530216774 2017-07 Ordinary Word Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
25 24 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 25 9787229100629 2016-07 Death’s End (Collector’s Edition) Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
30 26 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 27 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
29 28 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 29 9787540487676 2018-07 Used to be Alone Rui Xi Hunan Literature & Art Press
28 30 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, February 2019
January 2019 Ranking February 2019 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
4 1 9787559401007 2017-04 Good Loneliness Chen Guo Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 2 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
8 3 9787511553645 2018-04 Good Love: Love Philosophy of Chen Guo Chen Guo People Daily Publishing House
3 4 9787201094014 2015-09 Six Records of a Floating Life Shen Fu Tianjin People’s Publishing House
2 5 9787544771627 2018-03 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home (2018 Edition) Fu Lei,Fu Min Yilin Press
1 6 9787540481551 2018-11 The Emotional Quotient Lesson of Kevin Tsai: Live for Yourself for One Time Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
5 7 9787510842344 2016-03 All the Lost Will Be Repaid in Another Way Geng Shuai Jiuzhou Press
9 8 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
15 9 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
12 10 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
11 11 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
7 12 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
13 13 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
14 14 9787559418111 201804 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
16 15 9787540467784 2014-06 The Art of Speaking of Kevin Tsai Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
22 16 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
10 17 9787549550173 2014-01 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
17 18 9787540468316 2014-07 The Art of Speaking of Kevin Tsai (2) Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
21 19 9787508698175 2018-12 Variate: Microtrend of China’s Society He Fan CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
18 20 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
24 21 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie Tianjin People’s Publishing House
25 22 9787540487669 2018-05 You Are Bad Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
30 23 9787530215401 2016-02 The Most Beautiful Thing in Life is Fresh Delight Lin Qingxuan Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787535488473 2016-05 Walk Alone Freely Jia Pingwa Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co.,Ltd.
26 25 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
23 26 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Hunan Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 27 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal Cultural Development Publishing House
6 28 9787213090721 2018-12 Something to Say Cui Yongyuan Zhejiang People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787530214787 2017-04 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787549529322 2012-12 Insight Chai Jing Guangxi Normal University Press

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers in China, February 2019
January 2019 Ranking February 2019 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
4 2 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 3 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
3 4 9787544760874 2016-10 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (New Edition) Jules Verne France Yilin Press
8 5 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 6 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 7 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
10 8 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 9 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 10 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
11 11 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 12 9787544384636 2018-09 The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler United States of America Hainan Publishing House
18 13 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
16 14 9787550024212 2017-09 Trespassers Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
14 15 9787539971810 2015-04 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 16 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
Not Ranked 17 9787539999166 2018-05 No Longer Human Dazai Osamu Japan Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 18 9787544762519 2016-12 How the Steel Was Tempered Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Yilin Press
20 19 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 20 9787544774635 2019-01 How the Steel Was Tempered (New Edition) Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Yilin Press

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, February 2019
January 2019 Ranking February 2019 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
2 2 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
5 3 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
4 4 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
10 5 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
8 6 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
6 7 9787508692098 2018-07 21 Lessons for the 21st Century Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
7 8 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
11 9 9787220102912 2017-09 Rich Dad, Poor Dad Robert T.Kiyosaki United States of America Sichuan People’s Publishing House
9 10 9787544760850 2017-01 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland France Yilin Press
12 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
13 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
20 13 9787514208788 2013-07 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
15 14 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
14 15 9787544768511 2017-06 Three Days to See (New Edition) Helen Keller United States of America Yilin Press
17 16 9787508650890 2015-05 Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
16 17 9787535733597 2002-02 The Universe in a Nutshell Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
18 18 9787544762885 2016-04 84, Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff United States of America Yilin Press
Not Ranked 19 9787540489304 201901 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 20 9787545544220 2018-12 Becoming Michelle Obama United States of America Heaven & Earth Press

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 generate 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 China bestseller reports from Publishing Perspectives are here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

Facebook Twitter Google+

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.

Leave a Comment