One of the most popular TV series in China this summer was The King’s Avatar, which was shown on the video streaming platform iQiyi. Based on an online novel of the same name – Quanzhi Gaoshou – the 40 episodes tell the story of a professional gamer (played by heartthrob Yang Yang) who gets kicked off his eSports team. In addition to the streaming success, Quanzhi Gaoshou has been adapted into a hard copy book, a comic series, an animation and a mobile game.
With that in mind, it’s not hard to see why the hunt is on for the other novels to commercialise in the same way. But in the case of the country’s largest online book platform – Tencent’s China Literature – the strategy is to rely on an already famed sci-fi franchise to provide a surefire bestseller.
Last month it announced a plan to team up with Disney to develop a new series of Chinese-language books based on the Star Wars story. In addition Disney will make 40 existing Star Wars novels available in Chinese for the first time on Tencent’s digital reading platform, and at no cost for the first week.
China Literature says it has commissioned a science-fiction novelist working under the penname His Majesty The King to write an “authentic Star Wars story with Chinese characteristics”. CEO Wu Wenhui told reporters in Shanghai: “We hope we can help more Chinese readers engage with Star Wars stories and help the force of Star Wars shine brighter in China.”
The creative process may turn out to be more collaborative than for prior Star Wars literary projects. “As the relationship between online novels and readers is closer than ever, fans can give instant feedback so writers can work that into the content [discussion forums are very active on online literature platforms]. It is much easier to build a strong fan base as a result. It also gives the fans a strong sense of belonging,” explained Jiemian, a news portal. “Already, His Majesty the King has promised that he will adjust his writing of the Star Wars novels according to the fans’ input.”
Compared with Marvel, another Disney franchise, Star Wars hasn’t shown the same appeal for Chinese filmgoers. Avengers: Endgame made more in its first week in China than all four Star Wars films took there combined between 2015 and 2018, according to Box Office Mojo.
Sina Finance sees this as a missed opportunity, noting that the Star Wars franchise has earned $65 billion worldwide. “Disney needs to build a whole industry chain to cultivate more fans and bigger audiences,” the portal explained.
China Literature, on the other hand, wants to learn more from Disney about how American companies develop and distribute their intellectual property. “For instance, from the perspective of IP operations, what are the rules they follow for content production, how to control quality and the division of labour. And if you want to licence it for film and TV development, what kind of talents are required?” Wu, the CEO, told Eastday.com.
The deal with Disney comes at a time when China Literature wants to find new areas for growth. In the first half of the year, sales in its online business, which contributes the majority of its revenues, were down 11.5% year-on-year. Its share price has also been dropping, falling from HK$43.25 at the beginning of the year to HK$25.85 in early October (see WiC455).
Will the Skywalker clan reverse that trend? And what ‘Chinese elements’ will the Jedi adopt to captivate local audiences? Not everyone is convinced the concept will be easy to execute. “Writing is something that is deeply personal. On the surface, the deal between Disney and China Literature is just to come together to ‘write a book’, so to speak. But it uses a process of standardisation to deliver what is supposed to be a piece of original work. And don’t forget it is going to be a collaboration that is cross-cultural and cross-border. The level of difficulty is self-explanatory,” Sina warned.
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