Society

Novel ideas on the internet

Millions are paying to read online fiction

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Last spring, eight people were arrested by police after successfully (albeit illegally) digging up artifacts from a 15th century tomb near Beijing.

The criminals had no background in archeology. Their techniques, as the police later found out, were an imitation of those described in Ghost Blows Out the Light, a hugely popular Chinese online novel.

The success of Ghost Blows Out the Light highlights the growing clout of China’s online literature. Thanks to the country’s much-improved internet penetration, there are more online readers in China than ever before. Qidian.com, China’s biggest online reading website, has 20 million registered accounts and daily traffic of 220 million page views, says Southern Weekly. Most of the content released on the site are popular works of literature, such as fantasy, martial arts and romantic novels.

The website charges Rmb0.03 to read 1,000 Chinese characters and forwards half of the fee to the writers. Although the price paid by readers seems negligible, like all things in China the potential volumes can be huge. Shanda Literature, a subsidiary of Shanda, one of China’s largest online gaming companies (see WiC10), runs three online-novel websites (including qidian.com) and controls over 90% of China’s online-reading market. Analysts reckon that it pulls in at least Rmb100 million a year from its paying readership.

For struggling authors, every little bit counts. But Liu Jiajun, one of the 150,000 contracted writers on qidian.com, claims to have made over Rmb1 million ($146,000) from publishing his novel online. Liu, a journalist for a fashion magazine in Shanghai, started posting his writings online for fun two years ago. His work became an instant success among the internet community. He now churns out 6,000 words a day on qidian.com.

The more successful online products can even branch out to other media – making for further lucrative returns.

Ghost Blows Out the Light, for instance, has already sold millions of copies in print and its online game versions is also a best seller. Similarly, China’s best selling book in 2008 – The Tibet Code by He Ma – first appeared on the web before going into print. To date, more than 2 million copies have been sold.

Xiang Zhuwei, the Beijing-based ‘print’ publisher of Ghost Blows Out the Light told Time Magazine: “A major part of my job now is to forage those online-novel websites for potential book ideas. And I believe it’s the same with other major publishers too.”


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