Unlike Its American Counterpart, Publishing in China Is Thriving

Last week, the Association of American Publishers reported that as of May, book sales in the U.S. are down 3.9% for the year. In December, Random House, the world's largest publisher of consumer books, announced a major restructuring to cut costs, and a month prior to that, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt took the unprecedented step of suspending new acquisitions, except in rare cases.

If all of that is not bad enough, Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s eReader and Google’s new plan to sell books digitally represent another threat to traditional publishers’ market share.

China’s publishing industry, in stark contrast, is doing reasonably well during this global recession. In fact, it looks to be poised for a growth spurt, thanks in part to looser government restrictions on what can be published and on foreign investment. The sector is also well situated because of new regulations slated to consolidate the industry and make it more efficient.

According to financial reports, the four major domestically listed publishing companies — Shanghai Xinhua Media, Sichuan Xinhua Winshare Chainstore, Northern Alliance Publishing Media and Time Publishing — all posted double-digit revenue growth in 2008. OpenBook, a Chinese market research agency, reported that by January 2009, its composite index — a tracking number which monitors retail book sales — was up 20% from 2008.

Chinese publishers are mainly domestically focused, and their lack of global reach may be a boon in the current economic environment: Since China hasn’t been hit as hard as many other countries by the worldwide economic downturn, there has been less of a reduction in consumer spending on books.

Read more about the growth of the Chinese publishing industry in the current issue of China Knowledge at Wharton.