By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson
‘Stabilized Operations’ in 2020Facing the “severe situation” caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, China South Publishing & Media Group (CNS) chairman Peng Bo tells Publishing Perspectives that the company focused its 2020 efforts on “holding our main business.”
As in many countries, the pandemic has impacted the Chinese book market with lockdowns, bookstore closures, and an acceleration in online buying and digital production. And publishers like CNS have had to adjust their business strategies to meet the changing needs of readers and to help combat the pandemic.
In its 2020 financial report, China South Publishing shows an operating income of 10.473 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion), a year-on-year increase of 2.07 percent. That’s an accomplishment to be proud of, considering that China’s overall book market declined in 2020 for the first time since Beijing OpenBook began tracking Chinese book sales in 2001.
“We actively stabilized operations,” Peng says, and by doing so, “have achieved good results.”
In our interview with Peng, he outlines some of the pandemic’s effects on the Chinese book market, how China South Publishing & Media Group is responding, and his publishing strategy for the coming five years.
Looking at the international book industry and China South’s outreach strategy, Peng says that the cancellation of international book fairs and other events “directly affects the international development strategy and international cooperation of our group.
“Online meetings and virtual book fairs allow rights professionals to maintain their international connections,” he says, “but as an industry, we’ve yet to find a digital format as good for making new connections as in-person events and fairs.”
For China South Publishing, which Peng says is working to build up its international business and find overseas partners, the lack of in-person meetings adds to the challenge. Peng says that the group’s international strategy is directly tied to finding partners in different countries.
“We encourage our publishing companies to set up overseas joint editorial departments, hire senior overseas publishing experts as consultants,” he says, “and extensively seek high-quality authors internationally to create book products that truly suit the international market.”
Additionally, China South publishers are working to “create for international readers Chinese books in which they are interested,” Peng says.
But until in-person meetings can resume, Peng says China South will “take advantage of large-scale international book-fair platforms such as Frankfurter Buchmesse and Beijing International Book Fair to actively conduct online exchanges.”
Acceleration of Digital Books and Education
In China, as in other markets, the pandemic has fast-tracked digitization. “The development of publishing products other than traditional paper books, such as ebooks and audiobooks, is accelerating,” Peng says.
China South is researching “internationally popular new technologies and integrated media products,” Peng says, with a goal of reaching Gen-Z and younger readers. Plans involve working with “high-quality video and creative companies to explore the possibility of cooperation.”
In addition, Peng says, “the pandemic has also caused education products to be updated more quickly within a short period of time, and education publishing reform is coming rapidly.”
As demand for digital content and services in education has increased, China South has “opened a large number of online digital education products.” Even before the pandemic, the company had been actively building its educational publishing sector. Peng says that China South was the second-largest education publisher in China, up from 15th place in 2016.
A particular highlight in the China South portfolio, according to Peng, has been its online education platform, Bakclass.com, which provides digital content, resources, and tools for K-12 students, teachers, and parents. Founded in 2015 by China South subsidiary Hunan Education Publishing House, Bakclass has 4.85 million registered users, Peng says—”a year-on-year increase of 890,000″—and is used in 59,600 schools in China.
Across all its digital education products—which include Teewon Digital Media, online universities, and education content platforms—Peng says China South reaches 25 million registered users.
Looking Ahead: Younger Readers, Digital Content
When Peng looks beyond the immediate effects of the pandemic and at the next five years, he says he sees opportunities in readers who are younger, more digitally engaged, and aware of what they want.
“We estimate that in the next 10 years,” he says, “the Chinese reading community will gradually show a younger trend, with a wider geographical distribution, a higher level of education, and a more sophisticated and educated reading demand.
“At the same time,” he says, “as far as professional publishing and mass publishing are concerned, an important development direction in the future is customized publishing: what readers demand is what publishers provide.”
This consumer-driven approach to content production also applies to the group’s education business, which Peng says includes plans to “promote the marketization of the teaching-aid business, explore new models and platforms for the production of educational content, and improve the compatibility of teaching aids with high-school and college entrance examinations.”
Among the group’s ambitious plans in the digital arena, Peng says China South Publishing is looking “to integrate 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other new technologies into the whole process of content production, distribution, and service.”
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.