Book market

Chinese book market growth rate down 13.8% in 2022

With the COVID-19 outbreaks and severe shutdowns, China’s book market growth rate from January to June plummeted, with all sales channels affected.

At a PCR testing station in Shanghai on July 10. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Robert Way

By Porter Anderson, Editor | @Porter_Anderson

“A continuous decline from January”

IIn its assessment of the performance of China’s book publishing market this year from January to June, our Beijing OpenBook associates find a 13.8% decline in market growth rate compared to the same six-month period. last year. This, compared to the first half of 2019, represents a decline of 12.8%.

The culprit, as predicted by many international observers, has been the eruption of disease outbreaks and spread mitigation measures in the still ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Continued instability, for example, prompted organizers of the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair to postpone a second time this year, first from March to July and then from July to November.

China’s online and physical retail index – which dates back to 1999, when OpenBook began tracking the market – “showed a continuous decline from January,” according to Beijing staff, “and the index rebounded after May when epidemic prevention and control improved.”

In the first half of 2022, the physical store channel fell 39.7% year-over-year, the research shows, and the digital store channel fell 5.8% over the same period.

These data points have now been reported by research director Xiaohui Feng to leading market players at OpenBook’s annual “Reading X” presentation – this year held only as an online event, a sobering reflection of the current situation. report by Jason Douglas for the the wall street journal.“China is set to register its weakest growth rate in more than two years,” writes Douglas, “a measure of the costs imposed on the world’s second-largest economy by Beijing’s zero-tolerance approach to COVID.” . It’s particularly tough news for China’s book industry, which is bracing for what many in Shanghai fear will be a second rollout of lockdowns as the BA.5 variant becomes increasingly dominant. More information about this in Report by Christian Shepherd for the Washington Post.

The OpenBook team notes that part of the impact the lockdowns have had on the industry includes supply chain disruptions. “The outbreak in the first half of 2022 not only affected online shopping sales,” the team writes, “but also had a greater impact on logistics and warehousing, which also dealt a blow to online sales channels highly dependent on logistics.”

Image: OpenBook

Mixed results among sales channels

In terms of physical retail, Chinese bookstores saw a 51.8% drop from the first half of 2019, and this drop of 39.7% from January to June 2021.

What is increasing, however, in 2021 is the share of online retail activity, which reaches almost 80% of the overall market. OpenBook examines the three-part structure of digital retail: e-commerce platforms, short-video e-commerce, and other e-commerce options. Despite the buzz around short-form video marketing, like in TikTok, OpenBook sees more traditional platforms as the primary e-commerce retail channels, not least because of their large inventories.

Promotions were an important part of the success that could be managed in digital retail. The annual “618” promotions in mid-June opened early, in May, the researchers tell us, and the discounts offered were particularly aggressive on short-video retail channels, reaching deals of 62% in some cases. . On more traditional platforms, discounts were as high as 46%. These figures can be compared to the prices of physical bookstores which offered only 10% discounts.

Even at the highest discount ranges, OpenBook warns that drastically reducing prices to top competitors is of course not a long-term strategy. “A discount contest,” our associates politely said, “does not bring sustainability.”

Among these sales channels and their many discounts, sales have been concentrated around sectors and content genres.

  • On the e-commerce of short videos, some 61.3% of sales were for children’s books
  • On more standard e-commerce platforms, children’s books were strong, as were social science titles, each at 26%.
  • In physical stores, educational materials were the top-selling titles, accounting for more than 30% of sales

Image: OpenBook

An interesting couple of parallels can be found in how the first and last list have evolved over the first six months of this year in China.

  • Top List Titles Sell Best on Short Video Channels
  • Backlist titles sell best on more traditional e-commerce platforms

And if we look at the titles that sold between January and June in a total of 1,000 units and more:

  • More traditional e-commerce platforms accounted for up to 52,000 titles
  • Other online outlets offered up to 31,000 titles
  • Physical retail had some 20,000 titles
  • Short video e-commerce channels offered a much smaller range, at around 6,000 titles

So we see from this that despite the robust performance of short video channels, the breadth of inventory they offered in the first half of the year was quite narrow compared to other channels.

There are more nuances to be worked out in how short video e-commerce sales are understood in the Chinese market, and we’ll come back to that for more coverage. Thanks, as always, for Jiang Boyan’s translation and coordination assistance.

OpenBook Research Director Xiaohui Feng reports the data points from the first half of 2022 in a digitally produced program for this year’s Reading X event. Image: OpenBook


More information on the Chinese book publishing market is here, more about industry statistics is here, more about book sales is here, and our regular China bestseller reports are here .

To learn more about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its impact on international book publishing, click here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident member of Trends Research & Advisory, and was named International Business Journalist of the Year at the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards. He is the editor of Publishing Perspectives. He was previously associate editor of The FutureBook at The Bookseller in London. Anderson was a senior producer and anchor for CNN.com, CNN International and CNN USA for more than a decade. As an art critic (National Critics Institute), he has collaborated with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which is now owned and operated by Jane Friedman.