Thumbing through books and magazines in a street side market. Soldier from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) looks on. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

The publishing industry in China is growing, as can be seen by an increase in the number of new book titles, bookstores, consumer magazines, and a consolidation of imprints. The science, technology, and medical publishing sectors are making the transition to digital or online publishing, and there are now three major online retail booksellers in China.

As the country noted for its long literary history and credited for the invention of printing and paper, China would be expected to boast a thriving publishing industry, especially since it is home to the world’s largest population. Indeed, both book publishing and magazine publishing have been expanding in recent years as China’s thirst for knowledge and know-how grows. Concurrently the world’s interest in China increases as new translation rights and co-publishing agreements are reached, and attendance at the Beijing World Book Fair grows both in the number of publishers and countries represented.

Book Publishing

There are 527 officially designated book publishing companies (excluding imprints) in China governed by the General Administration for Press and Publications (GAPP), although a relatively small number of these are responsible for generating the majority of titles on the ever-growing list of new publications. Of these publishing houses 220 are in Beijing, 40 are in Shanghai, and the balance of 267 are in other parts of the country.

The number of new titles released in China each year continues to grow:150,800 were published in 2004, about 172,000 in 2005, 222,000 in 2006, and 248,000 in 2007. According to the OpenBook Information Service’s statistics, the growth rate for national retail book sales grew an average of 9.2 percent over the same four-year time frame. Most of the books published in China are in the low-cost paperback format, whereas in other parts of the world, publishers produce multiple editions including hardcover, book club, quality paperback, mass paperback, and special editions.

The government controls and continues to administer the structure of the industry that has been identified as moving forward on “two wheels” (i.e., sparing no effort to develop), including the establishment of rules governing for-profit and not-for-profit publishers. Similar to a consolidation of publishers via mergers and acquisitions in the Western world, since 2004 the GAPP has been organizing small publishers into more productive clusters in China. The largest, China Publishing Group, was established in April 2003 and includes the following enterprises: Commercial Press, DSX Joint Publishing Company, Zhonghua Book Company, China National Publishing Industry Trading Corp., China National Publications Import and Export Corp., and the Xinhua Bookstore Company. It is a vertically and horizontally integrated conglomerate of publishing and distribution, information services, technologies, and import and export services.

The top fifteen publishers have been able to retain their dominance during this transition as they have focused on their specialized subject areas and have added new segments for growth. For example, the People’s Literature Publishing House and the Changjiang Literature and Arts Press are the leaders in trade and literature books. The Jieli Publishing House and Zhejian Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House are the two leaders in children’s books. In March 2007 the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics reported that, by the end of 2006, children and teenagers up to the age of fourteen represented 20.3 percent of the total population, or 263 million young readers.

China International Publishing Group, Shanghai Translation Publishing House, New World Press, and the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press are identified as the leaders in foreign-language learning textbooks, dictionaries, and reference books. Chemical Industry Press, Machine Press, and Science Press are three leaders in the scientific and technical professional cluster of publishers.

The single largest publisher in China is the Higher Education Press (HEP), founded in 1954. It specializes in media on all aspects of higher, vocational, and adult education, including textbooks, teacher training manuals, supplemental materials, multimedia software, and online digital information resources. The target audience for this publisher comprises more than 2,000 universities and 25 million students enrolled in universities. HEP is recognized as one of the top forty-five publishing houses in the world. The total market segment of all education publishing, an arena including university presses, represents an estimated 84 percent of all book-publishing sales in China.

University presses play an important role in China both to promote scholarship and disseminate research findings of their host universities and to publish a large share of the higher education textbooks. About a hundred of the 527 publishing houses are university presses, of which the top ten will each generate sales of over 150 million yuan (about $22 million) per year. The university presses are not regarded as not-for-profit institutions because a certain percentage of their profits are expected to be remitted to their universities each year. Some of the leading imprints are Tsinghua University Press, Peking University Press, Beijing Normal University Press, Zhejiang University Press, and Shanghai Jiaotong University Press.

Transitions to Privatization

The government has promoted the concept of shareholding reforms to have publishing companies publicly listed (although a foreign company cannot own a majority share of any one such publisher). Along with the trend toward a form of public ownership comes the related “marketization” or privatizing of publishing programs that will be increasingly responsive to the changing market. For example, in 2004 the Hunan Publishing Group was transformed to a major state-owned business under the new title of the Hunan Publishing Investment Holding Group, with twenty-five branch business units, including book, newspaper, magazine, video, digital online publishing, and other industry-related units. In December 2007 Liaoning Publishing and Media Group was one of the first to be listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and a long-awaited new door opened for multinational publishers to invest in the dramatically growing Chinese book market. In July 2008 the Anhui Publishing Group was approved for listing on the Shanghai stock market, followed by the China Publishing Group, which registered in Hong Kong in August 2008. A survey conducted by the Chinese Research Institute of Publishing Science indicated that there are at least thirty private companies in the book business with assets over 100 million yuan (about $15 million) engaged in publishing and distribution in China.

Translation Rights

The purchase of translation rights, or what the Chinese publishers refer to as “imported” titles, plays a major role in the type and content of books published each year. The Kaijuan Book Market Research Institute, based in Beijing, reported that Chinese publishers purchased translation rights for an average of 12,000 titles each year between 2002 and 2007. In contrast, Chinese publishers sold translation rights for only 2,571 titles in 2007. Literature, children’s books, social sciences, and language learning represented 85 percent of the purchased translation rights in 2008, according to the Kaijuan Institute.

Early in 2008 the GAPP launched a new program to fund the costs of translations from Chinese into other languages to facilitate the process of selling rights to publishers around the world. The amounts range from 17,000 to 60,000 yuan (about $2,500 to $9,000) per title. The first agreements for such supported translations rights were signed during the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Cultural Content Providers

Another unique factor in the publishing industry is the existence of an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 private creative studios, or packagers, as outsourced publishers, identified in China as content providers and cultural companies. These companies cannot publish because they cannot obtain the official ISBNs and, therefore, must work in partnership or under contract with official state-owned publishers. These private companies produce an estimated 30,000 new titles, or 15 percent of China’s total new book programs, because the state-owned companies have not been able to keep up with the demand of the rapidly changing and growing market.

Book Sales and Distribution

The Xinhua wholesale and retail bookstores form a government-owned and administrated book sales and distribution system on a national scale that has provided the channels for publishers to sell books throughout the country. In 2000 the state-owned Xinhua bookstore system represented 96 percent of the industry’s unit sales and 85 percent in terms of revenue value. Since 2003 there have been a rapidly growing number of privately owned bookstores. In May 2003 the government decreed that retail bookstores could be designated as outright joint ventures with foreign companies or owned by foreign companies. The government allowed the same designations for wholesale businesses in December 2004. A survey at the end of 2007 reported an estimated 119,900 bookstores, including the 11,879 state-owned Xinhua bookstores and more than 108,000 private bookstores.

The current focus is to develop the Chinese version of Western superstores. OpenBook Information Services reported at the end of 2006 that there were sixty-one superstores with a size of 5,000 to 9,500 square meters (about 54,000 to 102,000 square feet) and another thirty-one superstores larger than 10,000 square meters (about 108,000 square feet). BookCity, one such superstore in Shanghai, has an average of over 9,200 visitors each day. The next phase of development will be the establishment of chain bookstores within a province or on a national scale, as well as in the ten larger cities along the coast.

By 2008, there were 253 million Internet users in China, which helped lead to the development of online bookstores. Despite the lack of plastic credit cards across the country to facilitate direct retail sales, three major online bookstores are now functioning very effectively:,, and entered the market in 2004 investing $75 million to acquire the online bookstore. (

The Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) is ranked as the largest in Asia and as one of the four most important annual events in the world to promote the sale of books and rights. The first BIBF was officially approved by the State Council and organized by the China National Publications Import and Export Corporation in 1990. Since entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the Chinese government has strengthened its support of the BIBF’s role in going global. In 2007 fifty-eight countries were represented; 1,463 publishers exhibited more than 150,000 books, with the sale of an estimated 12,064 translation contracts.

Magazine and Journal Publishing

The magazine industry started from a comparatively much smaller base, with only 257 periodicals published in 1949 printing 20 million copies, according the China Periodical Association. Currently there are more than 9,400 titles published with an estimated annual distribution of 2.75 billion copies. The three prime centers for magazine publishing are Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong. The industry is divided into seven major market categories. The consumer segment includes 547 titles; the literature and art segment, 540 titles; the children’s segment, 160 titles; and illustrated magazines, 64 titles. Only a quarter of these are published by publishers that have national distribution. The balance of the titles is released by regional publishers. Circulation numbers are still small in comparison to other countries. Consumer magazines, for example, have an average print run of just over 1 million copies; children’s magazines have average print runs of only 170,000 copies.

According to Xin Guanwei, vice president of the Chinese Institute of Publishing Science, magazines in China are published as commercial publications sold in newsstands or via subscriptions and noncommercial magazines distributed within organizations or specific industry sectors. Subscriptions with related order fulfillment are carried out for all magazines by the government post office in China. The post office controls all aspects of the subscription system, including lists maintenance, renewals, and related promotion campaigns. Only a few of the best-selling magazines can be purchased at a newsstand, which is in China a distribution channel still under development. The Business Publication Audit Company based in the United States has authorized Global China Media Consulting Company in Beijing to be its agent in China and measure distribution and sales levels for individual magazines to establish certified circulation numbers to be used for advertising sales.

Hachette Filippacchi Média—the world’s largest magazine publisher, based in France—reached an agreement in 1988 with Shanghai Translation House and published the Chinese edition of Elle, which started a whole period of cooperation in the publishing of fashion and consumer magazines. In 1993 China’s Trends Publications launched its first fashion magazine, Trends, after which Hearst then moved rapidly into the market with International Data Group, and developed the Trends Publications joint venture to establish translations of Cosmopolitan and Esquire in 1998. In 2004 Reader’s Digest reached an agreement with the Shanghai Press and Publishing Administration, a branch of the central General Administration for Press and Publications in Beijing, to develop a Chinese edition of the magazine. National Geographic followed with a partnership agreement with the Trends group to publish Traveler, and Condé Nast signed an agreement with China Pictorial Press to publish a Chinese edition of Vogue. Currently the four fashion giants— Trends, Elle, Vogue, and Rayli dominate the consumer magazine segment as the market leaders.

The number of Chinese scholars who read and write scientific, technical, and medical journals has increased fivefold since 1996. The Intersection of Technology, Content and Academia Institute reported that China had a twentyfold increase in publications of articles in scientific journals from 1981 to 2003. The sector of natural sciences, technology, and research journals is the largest of the seven categories with more than 4,600 titles.

Copyright Protection

In recent years the Chinese government has made major efforts to strengthen and enforce copyright laws for protecting print and digital content for copyright. From the revised Copyright Law in 2001 to the new Regulation on the Protection of the Right of Communication of Information on Network established in 2006, the judicial protection system of copyright law has been revised, strengthened, and actually applied. The rapid growth of the Internet and the public’s taking more notice of rights violations have led to an increase in the number of Internet infringement cases judged by the courts of the Peoples Republic of China.

Moving Forward

Information and related education are essential for a huge country to make the transition from an agrarian developing population and move forward on a national scale into the next century. In addition to a well organized public education system, there is a growing development of continuing and professional adult education. An increasing number of the 1.2 billion population will read information for education, self-improvement and entertainment—in print and online. The size of the country and rapid acceptance of the Internet will provide a wide range of opportunities for both print and digital or online publishing.

Further Reading

Baensch, R. E. (Ed). (2004). The publishing industry in China. Rutgers, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

DianShun, Ren. (2008, September 29). Publishing in China. Publishers Weekly, 39, S3–4.

Pin Li. (2008). International cooperation and globalization of the magazine industry in China. Publishing Research Quarterly, (24)1, 59–63.

Tang Xiaoyan. (2006). Ten year survey of China’s book industry. Publishing Research Quarterly. (22)2, 64–77.

Weihua Zhou. (2008). Educational publishers in China. Publishing Research Quarterly. (24)1, 32–39.

Xiaomang Feng. (2004) Cultural system reform and publishing industry transformation in China. Publishing Research Quarterly, (20)3, 23–28.

Xin Guangwei. (2008). The publishing industry in China and the Chinese Institute of Publishing Science. Publishing Research Quarterly, (24)1, 1–4.

Xin Guangwei. (2005). Publishing in China: An essential guide. Singapore: Thomson Learning.

Xue Lei. (2008, September 29). An analysis on imported titles (Purchase of translation rights). Publishers Weekly, 39, S16–18.

Drinking with a bosom friend, a thousand shots are too few; Talking with a disagreeable person, half a sentence is too many.



jiǔ féng zhī jǐ qiān bēi shǎo, huà bù tóu jī bàn jù duō

Source: Baensch, Robert E. (2009). Publishing Industry. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1806–1810. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Publishing Industry (Chūbǎn hángyè 出版行业)|Chūbǎn hángyè 出版行业 (Publishing Industry)

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