And Finally

Paper profits

Everyone wants a piece of Mo Yan’s success

Paper profits

The villagers of Gaomi in Shandong province stopped growing red sorghum decades ago because it didn’t bring in enough money.

But the crop could make a comeback in the region, with farmers encouraged to restart production, reports Xinhua.

The move is just a small part of the plan to cash-in on the county’s most famous resident, Mo Yan. As we reported in WiC168, Mo is the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, and his most famous book Red Sorghum takes places in a fictionalised version of his home town, Gaomi.

Although Mo’s award was only announced a few weeks ago, the local government has already submitted a proposal to invest Rmb670 million ($107.2 million) on a theme park celebrating the writer and his works. Hopes for the Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone are high, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper points out, as the surrounding area has struggled to attract tourists due to an absence of outstanding scenery.

But Mo’s response to the newfound enthusiasm for his hometown is tepid to say the least.

He has warned that the plans to expand tourism in the region would make Gaomi “a laughing stock”, reports Xinhua.

The state news agency also mentions comments from netizens on Sina Weibo who joke that the proposals are an example of the kind of “hallucinatory realism” that characterises Mo’s literary style.

Back in the world of publishing Mo’s commercial prospects look much more promising, with print runs of his books quickly selling out in both online and bricks-and-mortar stores. For example, after the Nobel announcement the Guangzhou Book Centre sold out of its entire stock of Mo novels less than five minutes after it opened its doors the next morning.

Another big beneficiary of Mo’s success, says Chinese Business Times, is Beijing Genuine & Profound Culture Development, which finalised a deal in May to take over the copyright of Mo’s complete works.

The timing of the deal looks terrific for the publisher. The day after the award was announced, it held a press conference to launch a new Mo Yan collection, consisting of 20 works. It will start out with a print run of a million copies, which it expects to bring in Rmb700 million in cash.

Genuine & Profound is a private company. But its own windfall has had a dramatic impact on other publishing and media companies, with five stocks in that sector soaring by the 10% daily limit on the day after the prize was announced.

Presumably investors believe that there will be a wider ‘Mo Yan’ effect, boosting book sales on an industry-wide basis. Outside the publishing industry, the spirit of Gaomi has also prompted entrepreneurs to rush out all sorts of products seeking to benefit from Mo’s enhanced profile – pens, T-shirts and even (bizarrely) charcoal ornaments.

Undoubtedly, the surge in popularity for Mo’s work will help the writer’s bank balance, as the Nobel effect does its work.

When J.M. Coetzee won the prize in 2003, sales in China of his novel Disgrace rocketed from 2,000 to 50,000, reports Chengdu Evening News. A home win for Mo should have an even more dramatic effect and China Economic Weekly predicts that Mo will rapidly become China’s wealthiest novelist, bringing in Rmb200 million in 2012 alone.

“It’s like a movie star winning an Oscar,” Tang Juan, director at a publishing company, told the magazine.

Mo’s newfound wealth looks set to dwarf the earning power of others, including Guo Jingming, a writer popular with teenagers, who amassed royalties worth Rmb24.5 million in 2011 (see WiC1). He has regularly been ranked as China’s richest novelist in annual assessments.

Mind you, while profitable his style of prose is not likely to ever be in the running for a Nobel Prize.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.