Few people working within Universities will have missed the recent furore surrounding academic publishing. What has been termed ‘the academic spring’ started with an angry blog post by a Cambridge based mathematician about the rising costs of peer reviewed journal subscriptions and the monopolistic practices of journal publishers. Last week it culminated in the announcement by the UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willets, of ‘the most radical shakeup of publishing since the invention of the internet.’
Willets announcement that all UK government funded research will be made available for free on an open access basis to anyone who wants to read it by 2014 is a bold one. It reflects larger ructions being felt within the publishing industry – not just in the UK, but across the world. Publishing is the original ‘copyright industry.’ Digital technologies that have made it possible for anyone with a computer and an internet connection to copy and distribute content on a global scale at almost no cost are turning it on its head and publishers are scrambling to find business models that can cope.
All of this is made more challenging because publishing isn’t just an €80 billion ($98 billion) global industry. It is also at the heart of the ways in which knowledge and culture have been expressed, shared and traded for hundreds of years. As such, the changes being demanded by digital technology and the ‘Social Web’ go to the heart of the ways in which institutions for knowledge creation and certification operate, governance is conducted and power is projected.
It is little wonder, then, that the internationalisation of the publishing industry is playing such a central role in the Chinese government’s efforts to project the nation’s status as a cultural and intellectual power of the highest order. China’s 12th five year plan outlined the nation’s goal of doubling publishing industry exports by 2015 by moving into ‘mainstream Western markets’. This follows close on the heels of a concerted push towards the market-based reform of an industry that is said to account for 0.9% of China’s GDP and 60% of the ‘added value’ of China’s cultural industries.
According to the General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) in 2010 total turnover for press, publishing, print and distribution industries reached 1269.81 billion RMB (US$201 billion). Chinese book publishing alone is said to be worth 90 billion RMB (14 billion). More than 328,000 book titles were published, including 189,000 new titles and 139,000 reprints or new editions. Close to 10,000 periodical titles were published, as well as nearly 2,000 newspaper titles.
Although there is always some doubt about the accuracy of official Chinese cultural industry statistics, it would be difficult for even the most hardened sceptic to argue that China’s publishing industry is anything other than massive. Not only that, it is cashed up and looking for opportunities to expand, commercialise and go abroad. The government recently announced that Chinese publishing houses will have access to 20 billion RMB (US$3.17 billion) in loans to help them to internationalise. The strength of China’s currency and the difficulties that have been felt across the international publishing industry in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis means that Chinese publishers have unprecedented opportunities to acquire international assets.
There are several points that are particularly interesting in all of this:
Firstly, as China’s large, sprawling publishing industry consolidates and moves towards more commercially driven models through mergers, international acquisitions and public listing, copyright is becoming more important. As China’s publishing industry continues to commercialise and internationalise, the value of legal institutions that allow assets to be described and traded will also grow. This is a phenomenon that Wan and Kraus predicted all the way back in 2002 – albeit in the context of the debate about film piracy in China.
The second is that there are some parts of China’s publishing industry that may simply be skipping a generation of technology. Mobile phones have now become the most common means of accessing the Internet in China. As smart phones become more affordable, vast new markets for digital content providers are opening up. Little wonder, then, that between 2009 and 2010 digital publishing revenues increased by 31.6% to 105.18 billion RMB. China Mobile’s eBook has emerged as a frontrunner – generating monthly revenues of over 100 million RMB (US$16 million). Last year, Dangdang, China’s equivalent of Amazon, listed on the New York Stock Exchange – boasting a digital library of more than 100,000 ebooks. Competition in this sector is fierce, and web portals now include library channels, e-book bases, e-commerce platforms, digital libraries and independent e-book stations.
Finally, new technologies, fierce completion and massive demand for content are resulting in highly innovative new models of content production. As Xiang Ren and I discuss in our forthcoming paper on Chinese Online Literature, crowd sourcing has emerged as an important strategy for generating content and engaging audiences in a networked digital world. Freemium models and user generated content are allowing publishers, authors and readers to share the risks of creative production and to take advantage of the capacity of the internet to allow users to decide what should be developed into more expensive products – for example online games or print editions of a book. There may be important lessons for publishing industries elsewhere in the world in these developments.
Although there can be no doubt that this particular story is far from over, there are signs that Chinese firms may be leading the way into a brave new world of social content industries. Although this reform process is only just beginning to impact on China’s academic publishing system, the sheer size of this emergent market makes it dangerous to ignore. By 2020 it is expected that China will produce 29% of the world’s tertiary graduates, compared with just 11% from the United States and 3% from the United Kingdom.
What does all of this mean for the Open Access debate taking place in the UK and other markets? Simply that the world it is a-changing… and innovation is not optional.
BIO: Dr Lucy Montgomery is a Queensland University of Technology Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow and Director of Research for Knowledge Unlatched, a not-for-profit company devoted to increasing access to scholarly books through the use of open access licenses: www.knowledgeunlatched.org Her work explores the role of digital technology and intellectual property in business model innovation in the creative industries.
Lucy trained as a China specialist at the University of Adelaide, before going to complete a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies at Queensland University of Technology. She has a decade of experience as both a researcher and as project manager, working on major international research projects on the emergence of China’s creative industries. She is particularly interested in understanding the impact of transformative technological change on the growth of the creative economy. Her book, China’s Creative Industries: Copyright, Social Network Markets and the Business of Culture in a Digital Age is published by Edward Elgar.