China’s Digital Publishing Innovation Forum: ‘Digital Inheritance’

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At a conference in Beijing, publishers are asked to consider how their content could be reformatted for popular digital distribution systems.

At OpenBook’s twin-conference sequence in Beijing: 200 people in physical attendance, at least 2,000 participating digitally. Image: Beijing OpenBook

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

Publishing and Technology’s Potential
In a hybrid event in the Chinese capital this month, a conference event has focused on trends and issues in book publishing and developments in digital transmission technology.

The programming is a service of Beijing OpenBook, familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers as our research associate for our series of monthly China bestseller lists.

The relevant program was part of the China Digital Publishing Innovation Forum was subtitled “Digital Inheritance and Sharing of High-Quality Development Results.”

The phrase “digital inheritance” is especially evocative, leading to questions of what digital developments could mean to publishing in terms of distribution and consumer-development—if publishing is interested in adapting its content to the channels of the day.

The event was held September 5 and 6 and—one of the first such events since the onset in China of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic—a physical core program hosted 200 attendees, while a digital audience of at least 2,000 professionals from publishing and related industries participated through digital feeds from the live show.

The program was devised to bring together research observations of both the publishing industry trends in a major market’s tumultuous year and the book business’ touch points with digital developments.

As is frequently the case in discussions of potential digital developments, the true viability of proposed gains tend to lie somewhere between the quiet clicks of developers at work and the inevitable generalities of theoretical and speculative presentation. Because it deals in electronic data research, OpenBook is currently working to help develop “publishing think tanks” in an effort to find a workable—and useful—interface between publishing and 5G capabilities.

You see this in such graphics as these:

Image: Beijing OpenBook

Looking for the Interface

Jiang Yanping—OpenBook’s general manager, who has spoken in Frankfurter Buchmesse’s conference programming in the past—advised conference attendees this month in China that the book business needs to be cognizant of reading habits and format preferences in the digital space. This is partly because of the avid audience interest in “online literature” in China. Comparable in some ways to users of the Wattpad platform’s patterns of production, a major audience segment in Asia is intent on mobile-device reading. If the trade publishing industry is to access this consumer base, Jiang is advising several considerations by publishers.

  • Published entertainment content, she says, needs to have a refined target audience and to search for originality that might help it find its footing beside more time-sensitive offerings from the worlds of beauty and apparel.
  • “Life skills” content that revolves around such fields as childcare, fitness, cooking, and more needs to be “more professional,” she says, stressing the accuracy that updatable online formats can provide over print.
  • Critical thinking and learning content, Jiang says, must demonstrate its depth and be presented as genuinely serious.

The general goal under examination is an integration by and for publishers of distribution and marketing for platform consumer cultivation and content delivery.

Platforms of interest in this sphere at the conference include TikTok, the short-form YouTube-like app that China’s ByteDance bought with Musical.ly and now a target of Donald Trump’s administration over questions of data security. To learn more about this controversy, you may find David McCabe, Ana Swanson, and Erin Griffith’s reporting for The New York Times helpful.

In terms of what conferences can offer book publishing in arraying and discussing trends in entertainment and communication app technology, the value of course depends on how closely a publisher may want to work to the sorts of content that becomes the currency of such services. Jiang suggests that a private WeChat community, for example, could be used to promote a book or develop a reading club. Clearly, such things can be done but may take a considerable commitment on the part of a publishing house to develop.

The transitional factor, it turns out, is advice that many publishers in many markets in many parts of the world are familiar with. In OpenBook’s presentation, the phrasing is “moving from being product-centric to consumer-centric.” And in many Western markets, this is simply known, of course, as being consumer-driven—becoming attuned and responsive to the interests and needs of the readership rather than approaching the market as agenda-setting content providers.

And the advice at the heart of the conferences sessions this month in Beijing is resonant anywhere. As the digital dynamic makes entertainment content the creature of distribution—and consumers the drivers of demand—publishers’ awareness and willingness to adjust their output to the modes of the media will spell success and failure. What’s needed next is more clarity as to what content works in which context. And that requires more experimentation.

OpenBook’s Jiang Yanping speaks at the China Digital Publishing Innovation Conference. Image: Beijing OpenBook


More from Publishing Perspectives on China and its market is here. Our China bestseller reports are here. More from us on digital publishing is here.

And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

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.

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