Audiobooks, e-books lift China's book industry

A screengrab of Audiobooks in China have enjoyed an upsurge in recent years. PHOTO: XIMALAYA.COM

BEIJING • A man spent more than 13,400 yuan (S$2,680) on Ximalaya FM, a popular audiobook platform in China, with Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix (2003) and Poor Charlie's Almanack (2005) among his favourite books.

This is the profile of the user with the highest spending on Ximalaya FM in the first half of the year, according to a report released by the think-tank TopKlout late last month.

Riding high on the momentum of audiobooks and e-books, the app epitomises the ever-changing and evolving industry in China. It also points to the way alternative reading methods are injecting new life into books and the way they are received.

"We've accumulated 470 million users during the six years since our founding," said Ms Wu Ting from the public relations department of Ximalaya FM. "More than half of the user flow was brought by audiobooks and the more active users listen to more than 15 books a year."

Classics such as the collection of Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig and Border Town (1934), written by reputed Chinese writer Shen Congwen, are among eight books with more than 10 million listens in the literature category on the platform.

The combination of stories and audio is key to the revival of classic works on the platform, said Mr Shen Dayuan, vice-general manager of Citic United Cloud Technology, a content-oriented Internet company set up by Citic Press Group.

"Performing the stories with voices is a whole different way of expression and another art form," he said, drawing an analogy between audio novels and the still-popular traditional art forms of cross-talk and sketches. "It has an attraction of its own."

Audiobooks in China have enjoyed an upsurge in recent years.

The total market value of audiobooks in China rose from 2.37 billion yuan in 2016 to 3.24 billion last year and is expected to reach 7.83 billion yuan by 2020, according to a report published in April by iiMedia Research, another Chinese think-tank.

E-book dealers are already looking at ways to take advantage of the evolving market.

Mr Shen recalled how the company tried to market The Qin Empire, a historical novel series based on China's Qin dynasty (221-207BC) and which was first published in 2008.

"We priced it at 199 yuan upon the release of the e-book two years ago, which most readers found unacceptable," he said. "So we changed our strategy into pricing it at five cents per thousand words, which literally would cost no less than the original if one finished the series."

Last year, the series became Citic Press Group's best-selling e-book on iReader, a major reading platform for e-books, as it enjoyed a new lease of life almost 10 years after being published.

Ms Wu believes audiobooks help people make the most of their time, given the frantic pace of modern life.

"Similar to what it did for books, the industrial chain of audiobooks can, in turn, provide more possibilities for the traditional publishing business," she said. "The market potential is immeasurable."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2018, with the headline Audiobooks, e-books lift China's book industry. Subscribe