A Guide to Chinese Web Fiction Market

Are you interested in the web fiction market? Do you wonder what the web fiction market looks like in one of the east world that has a very different culture than the U.S.? We will go through the Chinese web fiction in this guide, and after reading it you will have a basic understanding about the Chinese web fiction market. 

The Booming industry – Chinese web fiction market 

Let’s start from the very beginning, what is web fiction? Web fiction is the fiction written by ordinary writers and posted directly on the Internet . Some people also call it web novels. There are four main types of web fiction: webserial, fanfiction, web novel and webcomic. 

China has an emerging market with economic blooming. The web fiction market is one of the booming industries in China. Before the economic reforms, China did not have separate entertainment industries like music, film or web fiction. Regarding these kinds of industries as a system, it was the system of culture being created and supported by the state to serve the society. In socialist China, the whole purposes of the system of culture including music, literature and film were nothing but to reflect peoples’ lives while to create content that would uplift peoples’ spirit for constructing China through entertainment. It is not like North America and Western Europe where the markets for music, literature and film have long been established forming the individual industries for business players to compete for domination and pursue economic gains. 

Based on research, in 2016, the Chinese web fiction market reached 12 billion yuan (1.7billion USD), a year-on-year increase of 25%. The number of web fiction readers who read via websites reached 333 million, and the number of readers who read via mobile devices reached 304 million. 

The chart below describes the Chinese web fiction market size (numbers in Yi Yuan which is 100 million yuan/14 million USD) and the growth rate. 

2011 – 2018 Chinese web fiction market size (100 million yuan/14 million USD)

Source: Jianshu – https://www.jianshu.com/p/9df87262475a

This is a golden age for Chinese web fiction market. From 2011 to 2016, the market size has grown rapidly from about 2.7 billion yuan to 12 billion yuan, with a five-year increase of 340%. This prosperity is a signal of potential profitability to companies. According to comprehensive reports filed annually by public companies who operate web fiction platforms such as YueWen, ZhangYue(iReader), and ZongHeng have gained profitability from the web fiction market in 2017. 

There are three Chinese web fiction companies that went public, and they conquered the whole market. There are five main channels of this market: the BAT factions, the reading platforms that allow individuals publishing their own fictions, the reading apps and the publishers that are shifting towards online reading.  

The BAT factions include Tencent’s Reading Group, Ali Literature, and Baidu Literature. The reading platforms include companies like Migu reading, Tianyi reading, Wo reading, and Tadu reading. The reading apps include companies such as ZhangYue Reading Technology and ZhongWen Online Reading. The publishers like Grinding Literature, Douban Reading, Dangdang Reading, and Jingdong Reading are transforming into digitalization from traditional paper book publishing and sales. Under the current trend of the online reading, the web fiction market will be further integrated, and of course more capital will enter. The outbreak of the web fiction market is coming soon.

There are many websites and apps providing Internet literature reading services. Qidian

(起点中文网, www.qidian.com), Hongxiutianxiang (红袖添香, https://www.hongxiu.com), and

Jinjiang Literature City (晋江文学城, www.jjwxc.net) are famous Internet literature

Websites that have lots of web fictions post on. Most of the websites are focused on Chinese indigeous readers, so they don’t have an English version, and most of them do not even have an English name. Along with the development of mobile reading, applications for mobile phones are more and more popular. Many websites have both website version and mobile application version. It’s also noteworthy that some websites and apps are focused on original works, while some provide both Internet literature works and digitized versions of published works; others only provide digitized versions of published works. Many of these famous websites or apps are now affiliated with Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT). Jinjiang Literature and iReader are two of the few ones that haven’t been acquired by BAT. 

How does the market works – start with Web Fiction Companies’ Value Chain

There are three main sectors in most web fiction company’s value chains: authors/writers, editors and readers. 

Authors

Data show that the number of authors of digital reading in China increased from 3.89 million in 2014 to 7.84 million in 2017, it doubled in four years.

The chart below is the number of Chinese web fiction authors from 2014 – 2017 (the numbers are in 10,000) 

X-axis: year Y-axis: number of web fiction authors (10,000)

Source from: Digital reading white book by The Chinese Academy of Industry Economy Research

The entry cost for online fiction is low, and authors can use the online platform to post their work, or they could sign a contract with the web fiction website platform so their fiction could only be posted on the contracted website. BBS, blogs, and web fiction platforms are the initial distribution channels. Later on, because of the developing technologies, the new media came out and apps on mobile devices became one of the channels. But web fiction authors’ income mostly comes from the web fiction industrial chain.

Editors

Web fiction editors’ job duties are reviewing authors’ drafts, reminding authors about the due dates, collecting feedback information to the authors. They also recommend high quality books that might be accepted by a large group of people to the marketing team. The marketing team would promote these recommended books by creating promotions, and put these books on top of their website so it’s easy for users to see, etc. The editors would also provide information about audience tastes to authors, so authors know more about what they should write in order to get more readers. 

Readers

Web novel readers are netizens who read web novels. Netizen is a portmanteau of the words Internet and citizen, meaning “net citizen.”  It describes people that are actively involved in online communities or the Internet in general.

Industrial Chain

Web novel consumers pay by chapter at a rate starting around 0.02 Chinese yuan per 1,000 words. The revenue is shared between the platform and author, with the cut enjoyed by the writer being dependent on the negotiated deal. However, the web novel industrial chain is how companies make money. These money come from a successful novel’s copyrights. Companies are willing to pay fortunes for tales with the potential to become films, TV or animation series, or video games. 

Here is an example of a web fiction turned into a TV show. 

Link: Trailer for Langya Bang (known in English as “Nirvana in Fire”, one of the most successful Chinese television dramas of recent years, it was a famous web novel then it was adapted to a TV show.) 

One example of web fiction author’s success

Author Zhang earned 122 million Chinese yuan in 2016 and 130 million yuan in 2015, primarily from selling the copyrights of his 15 web fiction series. Douluo Dalu (“Douluo Continent”), for example, was bought by Tencent Video. Tencent turned the story into an animated series.

Audience analysis of Chinese web fiction market – young people are the mainstream 

The Chinese millennials, young adults who were born after 1980s till early 2000s as ending birth years are the majority of Chinese web fiction readers and writers. The emergence of the Internet is basically synchronized, and millenials have more independent thinking than older generations. The millennials are seeking entertainment that matches their own tastes, and it includes novels. At the same time, they use the Internet as a platform to make a sound for themselves. They not only like reading, but also support their favorite authors through purchasing and subscribing to the books. These purchasing data are collected and used as guidance for web fiction authors. It became an interesting interaction between authors and readers. Therefore, the consumer behavior of the reader group itself also constitutes an important part of online literature research.

The number of web fiction readers increased significantly from 2016 to 2017. In 2016 there were 340 million PC users and mobile users with growth rates of 13.4%. In 2017, the PC users and mobile users reached 370 million with growth rates of 13.1%. 

Relevant data show that 59.8% of people read web fictions for the purpose of pastime,  entertainment and relieve stress; 57.84% of people enjoy the fantasy stories from the fictions and regard reading web fictions as spiritual consolations; 56.86% of people are surrounded by relatives and friends Influenced by friends and start reading popular web fictions; 45.1% of people are used to reading web fictions all year round and they just keep it as a habit; 8.82% of people have other purposes.

In China, people do not need to pay or spend money to be a web fiction reader. Web fiction consumers are people who spend money on web fictions like paying for subscriptions, downloading, etc. Young people under the age of 30 are considered as the major consumer group. All web fiction consumers are readers but not all readers are consumers.

The Charts below are the Age Distribution of Chinese Web Fiction Market in Dec, 2017, the yellow bar represents the consumers and the gray bar represents the reader. 

X-axis: age under 24 years old 25-30 years old 31-35 years old 36-40 years old 41 and older

Y-axis: percentage of people who made payments for online literature to compare with the whole market population

Content Analysis of Chinese Web Fiction Market

Web fictions that have vast amounts of consumers generally have the characteristics of easy-to-read, entertainment, and lifelization.

  1. Easy-to-read: The language of web fiction is concise and clear, easy to understand, and obvious spoken. Only a small portion of web fictions use techniques that require higher level education in order to understand, most of them use simple language, so people do not need to have high education on literature to understand it.
  2. Entertainment: Web fictions mostly are made for entertainment in order to satisfy readers’ aesthetic psychological needs. Readers get emotional support and vent through reading, and it brings fun to their lives. Correspondingly, the themes of web fiction are collectively expressed as: romantic stories, fantasy, myths and legends, kung fu, etc.
  3. Lifelization: The content of web fictions has the characteristics of lifelization. Lifelization refers to the contents that are close to people’s daily life. Most of the content comes from the life of the public. The author uses people’s daily life as resources to create stories. Romantic love is always an important theme of web fiction.

In the context of commodity economy and profit-oriented operations, the audience of web fiction has become popular, the content tends to be flat, and the operation has become more and more commercialized. 

Major Chinese Web Fiction genres

Just like western web fiction, Chinese web fictions have many different genres. The writing of web fiction is a service-oriented writing with an equal mentality. It is a process of creating dreams for readers. Web fiction authors are not required to follow the standards of literary theory in the old literature framework. What is pursued is to understand the target audience and write what the target audience wants to read. There are several kinds of themes that Chinese readers really like. We will introduce five most popular sectors of Chinese web fictions in the market: romance fictions, fantasy fictions, fanfictions, science fiction and martial arts fictions. 

Most of the romance fictions have a similar prototype: it has to reflect the relationship ideals of the general population. The hero, for instance, would be the head of a large, prominent family-owned corporation or a commander in an elite military unit. Almost all successful books have fairy-tale endings, the heroine marrying the handsome, rich and powerful husband, which is the hero of the book.

Fantasy fiction is the other dominant genre in Chinese web fiction. For most fantasy fiction, the most common type of plot would be an oppressed character who suddenly discovers a super­power, or an arte­fact with special prop­erties, and uses it to exact revenge on his enemies. “Most fantasy novels are essen­tially coming-of-age stories about the protagonist’s endeavours,” Gai Bo, from Peking University’s School of Journalism and Commu­nication, wrote in a bimonthly periodical produced by the University of Wuhan, the Publishing Journal in 2016. “Young readers can ease their frustration and discontent with life, and project their hopes and dreams on the characters, by identifying with them.” A reader from an interview about fantasy fictions said, “The novels are just for people to fantasise,” he says, “and the more they read, the more addicted they become, even though the novels will not change their conditions.” 

Fanfiction is a type of fiction written by fans where the author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from an original creator as a basis for their writing.The Chinese fanfiction ecosystem reflects its eclectic media diet: there are vibrant fan communities around movies, games, books, bands, and TV shows from Japan, Korea, the US, the UK, and China itself.

Chinese science fiction is a genre of literature that concerns itself with hypothetical future social and technological developments in the Sinosphere.

Chinese martial arts fiction, or Wuxia fiction is a genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. Although wuxia is traditionally a form of fantasy literature, its popularity spread it to diverse art forms such as Chinese operas, cartoons, films, television series and video games. It also forms part of popular culture in many Chinese-speaking communities around the world. In some translations, the martial artists are referred to as a “swordsman” or “swordswoman” although they may not necessarily use a sword.

The next big step after getting popular – IP Development

As we discussed before, the web fiction industrial chain is how the companies and authors make fortune money. IP development is the comprehensive development of works, especially popular novels, to make movies, TV dramas, games and merchandising articles such as mugs, notebooks, and dolls about the works.  IP development is one of the main ways for the online literature industry to make money. 

Source: China Book & Digital Publishing Market Analysis – https://renodo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/China-Book-Digital-Publishing-Market-Analysis-Yanping-Bryant-Openbook_Trajectory.pdf

Online Film in China provides a systematic overview of the changes in copyright protection in China. It describes an arduous process, from China’s desire initially to placate international trading partners under pressure from the US administration and international organisations, to the recent complex stance having domestic industries’ self-interests in mind in pursuing economic goals. Many readers may find it’s more comfortable to identify themselves with the position of people who expect the IP protection in China would follow suit that of the US. With the process unfolding, Chinese readers would eventually see sense for strong protection of IP. The Chinese government also is making efforts to improve the IP protection legal services and enforcement mechanisms providing not only regulations but also detailed guidelines to ensure the interests of the right holders are protected in the entertainment industry. 

Political Risk – the government plays the main role

There is one thing that authors need to pay attention to: the political risk. China is a country that has various constraints in almost every industry. Religion and politics are strictly forbidden which indicates that authors should not write contents that have negative descriptions about any religion groups nor politics. Explicit sexual contents are banned, but suggestive content and innuendo are encouraged because they attract eyeballs.

Web fiction authors should note why political risk existed and how to avoid it. In

Chinese culture, the contents of cultural creativity are regarded as “a common cultural

heritage” of the society. With socialist core ideology and collective culture norms, the public interest takes high priority.

Summary

Chinese web fiction is a huge market, the big companies like BAT are trying to gain market share as much as they can. There are two main types of platforms to deliver web fictions to readers: the web page views and the mobile application views. The majority of authors and readers of Chinese web fictions are millennials.  

 

 

Resource Page Extended

  1. http://pdf.dfcfw.com/pdf/H3_AP201903061303172759_1.pdf
  2. http://renodo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/China-Book-Digital-Publishing-Market-Analysis-Yanping-Bryant-Openbook_Trajectory.pdf
  3. https://www.jianshu.com/p/9df87262475a

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