book sales decline

Overall book sales in China decreased in 2022, but online sales driven by TikTok and other short-video platforms are growing rapidly.

2022: A Hard Year in China

As anticipated, of course, the mainland Chinese book market, tracked and researched by Beijing OpenBook, saw a substantial decline during a tough 2022. If anything, the pressure is on the new Year of the Rabbit, as Lunar New Year celebrants hope for better times.

Year over year, book sales in the overall market in China declined 11.77 percent—something brightly contrasted by short-video e-commerce (TikTok and other platforms) jumping a prodigious 42.86 percent in the same period. So while sales on the whole were suffering, a relatively new channel for digital book retail was ballooning.

Our readers need no reminder, of course, that by early October, as Xi Jinping secured his third term in office, tens of millions of people were reported confined in lockdowns in as many as 60 cities and towns.

‘Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out’ by Mo Yan

BBC News reporting by Stephen McDonell in Beijing pointed to youth unemployment at 18.7 percent, down from something even higher, at near 20 percent. Public health analysis indicates that perhaps the single most crippling point was a weakness in China’s self-produced COVID-19 vaccines.

The dismantling of the “zero COVID” policy wouldn’t be fully apparent until early December, following strident protests in November. So it’s not surprising that in such a year of harsh lockdowns, public fury, and a sudden abandonment of policy, sales from physical bookstore channels decreased by 37.22 percent year-over-year. Economics were going the wrong way, even in online business. Platform e-commerce decreased by 16.06 percent over 2021 figures, and other e-commerce channels sank by 2.43 percent.

Some 40 percent of sales revenue was being generated on digital retail platforms, even amid the challenges, our OpenBook associates say, while those short-video e-commerce activities blew right past the staggered physical-store channels.

What sold, what didn’t

Several bestsellers in China in 2022, from left: ‘Head of Bodhi’ by Cao Dewang; ‘To Live’ (2021 edition) by Yu Hua; ‘Destiny’ by Cai Chongda; ‘A Lifelong Journey’ by Yu Minhong; and ‘Cao Cao’ (three volumes) by Yi Zhongtian

Literature and biography were up in 2022’s Chinese market. The sector suffering the most was the study-aid category, down by more than 2 percent over 2021. Literature gained 1.82 percent over the previous year.

‘The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo’ by Lin Yutang

Children’s books remained the largest part of the picture. Some staying power in biography is credited to sales of bestsellers including The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo and the autobiography Heart of Bodhi by Cao Dewang.

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By Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives

Photo by Rey Seven on Unsplash

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