Chinese Authors Find Greater Freedom Online
Behind the wild success of Ghost Blows Out the Light is a booming internet-novel industry that is largely unique to China because of the greater freedom from censorship enjoyed online by writers and readers. Shanda Literature, which controls over 90% of China’s online-reading market, rakes in an estimated revenue of 100 million yuan ($15 million) per year. Running three popular online-novel websites, Shanda boasts a total readership of 25 million and is growing at 10 million per year, according the company. “The Chinese people need a platform to express their creativity,” said Hou Xiaoqiang, founding CEO of Shanda Literature. “I think our online-literature sites can partly cater to that need.”
The tradition of online literature in China, Hou and other writers say, goes back to the mid-’90s, when the bulletin-board system, or BBS, first appeared on the Chinese Internet as a platform to share opinions and in many cases literary creations.
The same rigid censorship that drove millions of users to BBS and other online forums likely also ushered many book readers into cyberspace. “All books are required to go through three rounds of government-supervised editing, which could take months, before they can be published on the mainland,” says Zhang. “Whereas online novels almost instantly reach the public at the click of a button.”
Although most BBS-based online novels started out free of charge, Shanda Literature’s users now have to pay for the pleasure of online reading. But for most subscribers, the cost is minimal: they can access up to 75% of a book for free and pay only about 0.04 yuan (less than one cent) per 1,000 words for the rest of the book. In other words, it costs about one-tenth of the paperback price to read a book online. Right now, the company takes half of the readers’ payment, and the other half goes into the writers’ pocket.
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Image Source: parhessiastes