Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Guest Post by Blake Crouch


Blake sez: I've just returned from a five day trip to China, where I was invited by a Chinese digital publishing company called Cloudary Corporation to speak at the Beijing International Book Fair.

The trip was an extraordinary experience, and not only culturally where I benefited from a surplus of generosity from my hosts, but from the standpoint of catching a snapshot of the current state of Chinese publishing.

The comparison to American publishing could not be more apt.

Without oversimplifying a complex situation, the Chinese are experiencing almost identical tension between traditional publishing and the advent of the ebook as we are here in America.
They even call their old-school publishers "traditional publishers."

At the forum where I presented, I was involved in a discussion with an American publishing consultant, and three Chinese writers who publish digitally.

I could've just as well been sitting on a publishing panel in America. Different language, same bullet points.

My Chinese counterparts are passionate about all the things American ebook writers are excited about: fair royalty rates, the ability to release books faster, getting paid in a timely manner, and most importantly: creative control.

The audience I spoke to was filled with traditional Chinese publishing stalwarts, who expressed....wait for it...concerns about "gatekeepers" disappearing. In other words, who would bring work of quality to the Chinese readers if there wasn't an elite coterie to separate the good from the bad.

The most classic moment was when Robert Baensch, an exceptionally impressive publishing expert of fifty years who has worked and consulted at all levels of Big 6 publishing told these Chinese legacy publishers that if they don't adapt to the new model afforded them by digital publishing, then "someone will come in, take your job, and do it for you."

Sound familiar? Denial is not just domestic.

On a quick side note, Baensch sees the refusal of publishers across the world to properly embrace and exploit ebooks as an epic "managing" fail.

Here was my second, bigger surprise....the Chinese don't just share our enthusiasm of ebooks. They are beating us in not only volume but creativity.

In China, there are numerous ereaders available, but most of the digital reading public reads on their 780,000,000 mobile phones.

As a writer, what I found most fascinating was the publishing model of Cloudary Corporation, the company that invited me to China.

Cloudary is the largest online community-driven literary platform in China. But they operate in a vastly different manner than Amazon, BN, or Smashwords. Instead of one platform populated by complete books, they aggregate content from a variety of websites, each tailored to a specific genre. And the most popular, most famous, richest Chinese digital writers release content as they write it. They author long, ongoing works, thousands of pages in length, and most popular is a genre of time-travel/fantasy in which young adults go back in time to visit historical moments in Chinese history where they play an integral role in fixing or changing something.

Getting back to the Cloudary model, the Cloudary writers publish portions of their "active" books on a daily basis to ravenous fans, who, if the writer is too slow in releasing the next installment, harangue them on public forums for the next chapter. If the writers don't release new content quickly enough, the fans desert them.

Cloudary has six writers earning more than $1,000,000 RMB/year, (about $200,000 US).

Of course, not everyone is successful. But anyone can begin the process of uploading their work. It's essentially a competition and the readers decide who wins, voting with their pocketbook, with page-views. Readers establish an account, which is docked based upon how many pages they read. When a certain book becomes popular, and heavily-viewed, Cloudary steps in on a partnership basis, where the royalty split is in the ball-park of 50/50. At this level, Cloudary plugs these popular books into various print and film channels to exploit additional sub rights.

But the thing is the big money earner in the most populous, most literate country in the world.

In addition, the mobile phone companies distribute a percentage of the content. Imagine if AT&T or Verizon hosted content and paid us as writers. That's the comparison.

I'm still processing the head-spinning information overload, but I was thrilled and humbled to witness firsthand to what level the largest market in the world has taken ebooks.

What this implies for us non-Chinese speaking writers, I'm still not sure, and I am not encouraging anyone to go pay to have their works translated, so we can skip all the hysterical tweets.

The complexities and challenges of bringing ebooks to such a diverse marketplace will be great.

To say things are different in China is the understatement of the year.

When the Kindle debuts in China, it will be interesting to see how and if it can compete with Cloudary.

Different culture. Different digital reading model.

But the point is they're having the same conversations we are, they're more innovative, they've got a lot more readers, and we would be fools not to begin actively looking for ways to export our work.

Joe sez: I've been blogging about the potential inherent in a world market for a while now. Not just a world ebook sales market, but also a world library market.

There are almost 7 billion people on earth. One billion of them speak English. The other 6 billion can be reached via translation. The worldwide standard of living is constantly going up, giving more and more access to cheap electronics such as ereaders and cell phones.

Authors don't have access to all of those people...yet. But we will. And if we can sell to the smallest fraction of the global market, we'll be making a very nice living.

Soon, Amazon will release a Kindle in India, which has the second largest English-speaking population in the world. And they won't stop there.

It is true that we can't know what new technologies are on the horizon, or what new formats ebooks will take. But the cat is out of the bag. Ebooks are here to stay, in one form or another, and they are going to go global the same way wrist watches, cars, radio, TV, microwaves, and mp3 players did.

There has never been a better time to be a writer.