International Symposium on Chinese Digital Publishing and Reading: Evolving Models and Emergent Cultural Practices

The publishing industry is in the midst of a profound digital transformation. While technological and commercial dynamics are driving changes in publishing models and cultural practices across the globe, a deeper understanding of the role that geographic, linguistic and cultural diversity have to play in digital publishing transformation is needed. In 2017, the economic scale of China’s digital publishing and reading industry was 15.2 billion RMB Yuan (roughly AU$ 3.2 billion) and 378 million Chinese people read intensively in digital, according to China Audio-video and Digital Publishing Association. While emergent publishing models are unprecedentedly increasing public access to knowledge and empowering creative netizens in participatory cultural production, digital innovation faces multiple challenge in the Chinese contexts that differ in important ways from the West, ranging from government control to the lack of a rich public reading tradition. This symposium will involve a selected group of speakers and papers exploring the dynamics, complexity and diversity of Chinese digital publishing and reading. Co-organised by Professor Zhiqiang Zhang from Nanjing University and Dr Xiang Ren at ACIAC, this symposium is also a pre-conference event of the 26th annual conference of The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing (SHARP 2018) (opens in a new window).


Date: Monday, 9 July 2018

Time: 9.45am - 1.00pm

Venue: EA.G.19 (LT03), Parramatta Campus (South), Western Sydney University

Limited seats. RSVP Essential. Please RSVP HERE (opens in a new window) before 8 July, 2018.

Symposium Program

TimeSessionChair and Discussant
9:45-9:50Introduction and welcome By Dr Xiang Ren 


Opening speech By Professor Labao Wang

 10:00-10:50Session 1
  1. Research on Reading Behaviour of eBooks in China By Professor Zhiqiang Zhang
  2. Dream of the Red Chamber in audio books: Transmedia adaptation and communication effect By Ms Pei Lin and Associate Professor Lihua Zhao
 Dr Beth Driscoll
10:50-11:10 Morning tea break 

Session 2

  1. Precarity and politics of Online Literature platforms in China By Dr Elaine Jing Zhao
  2. The production and distribution of app-based interactive eBooks: Leading platforms and bestselling titles By Associate Professor Min Shen


Ned Rossiter


Session 3

  1. From eBook piracy to ‘Paid Knowledge’: Copyright and evolving publishing models in China  By Dr Xiang Ren
  2. The development and challenges of China's audiobook industry By Associate Professor Yan Wu
Dr Liam Magee

Conclusion and wrap-up By Professor Zhiqiang Zhang


Speakers information


Professor Zhiqiang Zhang is Chair of the Department of Publishing Science in the School of Information Management and Executive Deputy Director of the Academy of Publishing at Nanjing University. He is a leading scholar in publishing studies in China and has authored more than 10 books including The Development Report of Publishing Industry in Greater China after the New Millennium, The Publishing Research History of China in the 20th Century, and An Introduction to Publishing.


Dr Xiang Ren is Academic Course Advisor and Research Fellow in the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture at Western Sydney University. His research looks at digital publishing innovation and the evolving role of publishing in China’s social transitions and has published widely on relevant topics. Prior to his academic career, he spent more than a decade working in the Chinese publishing industry.


Associate Professor Lihua Zhao is an associate professor at Communication University of China(CUC). She received her Ph.D. in Chinese language and literature from Peking University. Her research fields include history of editing and publishing, media ecology, reading and reception.


Associate Professor Min Shen is Dean of the Department of Editing and Publishing in the School of Humanities and Communication at Zhejiang Gongshang University. She received her PhD from Zhejiang University and has been conducting research on traditional image transmission for decades. In the past ten years, she has completed 6 projects funded by national and provincial research grants and published 5 monographs and more than 20 papers.


Associate Professor Yan Wu teaches and researches in the Department of Publishing Science in the School of Information Management at Nanjing University. Her research focuses on publishing industry and publishing history. In 2014-2015, she was a visiting scholar of University of British Columbia, Canada. She is also a member of China Editorial Association.


Dr Elain Jing Zhao is Lecturer in the School of the Arts and Media at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She conducts research on China’s digital transformation and its social, cultural and policy implications. She is a chief investigator on an Australian Research Council-funded project which examines China’s attempt to use “digital power” of the Internet to achieve international recognition as an “innovative nation”.

Ms Pei Lin is a PhD candidate at Communication University of China (CUC), where she is studying the history of books and reading. She has a B.A. in French Language and Literature, and a M.A. in Communication.

Discussants Information


Ned Rossiter is Professor of Communication in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts with a joint appointment as Institute Fellow in ICS. His new book, Organization after Social Media (with Geert Lovink), has just been published by Minor Compositions/Autonomedia and can be downloaded here. (opens in a new window)


Beth Driscoll is Senior Lecturer in Publishing and Communications and Program Coordinator for the Master of Arts and Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne. Her research investigates contemporary cultures of reading, publishing and writing. Her monograph, The New Literary Middlebrow: Tastemakers and Reading in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan), was published in 2014. Beth is a Chief Investigator on two ARC Discovery Projects: "Genre Worlds: Australian Popular Fiction in the Twenty-First Century" and "New Tastemakers and Australia's Post-Digital Literary Culture".


Liam Magee is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society and, with Ned Rossiter, he co-convenes the Digital Life Research Program. His current work examines machine learning, markets, knowledge and standards of evidence, and media and communications.


Paper Abstracts

Research on Reading Behaviour of E-books in China Zhiqiang Zhang; Yu Zhu

In recent years, digital publishing in China has been developing rapidly and built a large reader community for e-books. According to the nationwide reading survey in 2017, the rate of digital reading (including online reading, smartphone reading, e-Reader reading, and Tablet reading) was 68.2%, increasing by 4.2% compared with 2016. We conducted a survey in March 2018, and have some interesting findings about the e-book reading behaviour in China, including reading device preferences, reading reasons, reading contents, reading time and number of e-books that were read, the proportion of paid and free e-books, the affordable e-books price, and the loyalty of reading e-books. We also try to compare e-Book reading behaviour in the academic and entertainment contex

Dream of the Red Chamber in audio books: Transmedia adaptation and communication effects Pei Lin; Lihua Zhao

Dream of the Red Chamber, perhaps the most popular classic literature in China, is being adapted into audiobooks and distributed and ‘read’ in digital platforms. There are more than 2,000 audio editions of this novel in Himalaya, the largest audiobook and podcast platform in China, targeting different audiences and in various transmedia forms, with different reading or interpretation patterns. We want to find out how storytellers made transmedia adaptation from textual content to audiobooks through content analysis of some selected popular editions. We identify the changes in the creative adaptation for intensive audio reading. We also examine how these changes many affect communication, and reveal audiences’ reading experience through a series of experiments.

Precarity and politics on online literature platforms in China Elaine Jing Zhao

The online literature market in China has witnessed phenomenal growth in the past decade. Yet, little is known about the experiences of writers creating works on digital platforms. This article examines aspiring creative production on digital platforms with reference to online literature writers in China. Drawing on in-depth interviews with aspiring online literature writers and secondary sources including industry literature and news reports, this paper situates the analysis of lived experiences of these creative labourers in a rapidly evolving market. It reveals multiple dimensions of precaricty and politics that often accompany aspirations.

The current situation of Chinese app-based interactive eBooks: Leading platforms and bestselling titles Min Shen

The paper introduces the representative titles and defining features of the interactive eBook industry in China and discusses the major challenges it faces. The app-based interactive books are now mainly produced by small independent design teams, and distributed by Internet platforms like Apple App-store and various Android App-Stores in China. However, only a few design teams like Tag Design and Lemonista could manage to get ranked high in these App stores. This paper argues that the content-oriented interactive eBooks is not commercially successful for a few reasons: digital bookish content has communicative disadvantages; many were created for marketing and promoting print books rather than as independent products; interactive eBooks lack high-standard content editing and effective promotion/distribution. It concludes that simple turning traditional content into interactive eBooks can hardly result in industrial growth.

From eBook piracy to ‘Paid knowledge’: Copyright and evolving publishing models in China Xiang Ren

The Chinese digital publishing industry saw the rise of ‘Paid Knowledge’ as an emergent paradigm after 2016, characterised by a series of innovations that shift the focus of publishing from bookish content to multimedia, interactive, social and customisable knowledge sharing services, ranging from audiobooks, to paid podcasts, cash for answers, and celebrity-led reading groups. This paper understands ‘Paid Knowledge’ from an evolutionary and historical perspective, particularly relating to China’s changing copyright and social environment. It explores the business innovation of ‘Paid Knowledge’ that redefines publishing value propositions and monetises intellectual resources through complicated models, as well as its social impact in serving China’s knowledge-craving middle class facing a fast-pacing and uncertain world. It concludes by discussing the tension between commons and markets in democratising knowledge and enlightening publics in China’s evolving publishing industry.

The development and challenges of China's audiobook industry Yan Wu

In 2017, the scale of China’s audio reading market reached 4 billion Yuan after years’ rapid growth. This paper identifies three characteristics of the audiobook industry through value chain analysis: the co-existence of traditional and born digital content in the upstream, the competition and collaboration between new and old production companies in the midstream, and the various focuses of audio platforms in the downstream. The industry faces many challenges, ranging from high production cost and small profit margin, to content homogenization and mediocrity, and the lack of copyright awareness and protection. This paper concludes by practical suggestions for publishers in terms of quality control, copyright protection, and commercial viability. It calls for vertical integration and standardisation in order to improve the ecology of Chinese audiobook industry.