Social video-sharing revolutionising book sales in China

Alicia Liu
News - International Wednesday, 20th October 2021

Alicia Liu reports on an area of phenomenal growth for Chinese publishers


The post-pandemic recovery is pushing China's tech-savvy population - 885 million digital consumers - even further online, not only for shopping, but also for entertainment, reading and learning, according to a New Media for Publishing research report. The report comes from Phoenix Publishing and Media Inc, one of the largest publishing groups in China, and NewRank.cn, a Shanghai-based company specialising in monitoring new media data. 

Six major social video sharing platforms drove 90% of online book sales transactions in China in 2021, the report finds. One popular platform, WeChat, has seen book sales grow by 800% in six years. These book sales opportunities have been driven through the 1,800 accounts created by 583 Chinese publishers.

From online to social commerce
Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) and other short video platforms are growing into the most important social commerce platforms, bypassing traditional physical retail stores as well as established e-commerce platforms. The Chinese digital first national policy, the rapid growth of social media platforms, and tech-savvy consumers are three key factors contributing to this shift.

The report is the first of its kind, and based on a survey of 583 publishers on major social media accounts including WeChat, Weibo (China's equivalent of Twitter), Douyin, Kwai, BiliBili, and WeChat video. 

In 2020, online book sales accounted for nearly 80% of the Chinese market, and 80% of users obtained book-related content directly through social or short video new media platforms. 

The number of videos with reading tags on the Douyin platform increased by 353% year-on-year in Q2 2021. 

Instant checkouts 
"China's new social media is revolutionising sales, in particular for publishing." said She Jiangtao, president of China Phoenix Publishing and Media inc. 

In China, live-streams are not only perceived as content: there is an understanding that you can buy what you see. Live-streaming adopts a similar format to that of shopping channel QVC, but updated to fit a 21st-century lifestyle - on a social media app on a mobile phone, and with an integrated instant checkout button. 

Research suggests that short video sharing apps such as TikTok and Kwai are used extensively for online sales - even in the sophisticated areas of cultural consumption. During the Douyin Reading Festival in April 2021, the daily average number of book sales on the platform reached 500,000 copies. Kwai's educational book content sales value increased by 317% year-on-year as of June 2021. 

New publishing strategy: building direct traffic and collaborations 
Studies of over 1,800 accounts set up by publishers across six major social platforms in China show that  

●  55.7% of Chinese publishers produce marketing and sales content in both text and video formats for social commerce platforms 
●  Over 80% of publishers are active in more than three social media platforms
●  WeChat-led social commerce book sales increased eightfold in 6 years
●  Short video led social commerce sales have fluctuated, but trended upwards in the first half of 2021
 
"Online sales that would take three days three years ago can now be achieved in just three minutes," said She Jiangtao from Phoenix Publishing. "In China's retail book market, where total sales have not grown in scale, this is undoubtedly the fundamental structural shift from physical stores to online. As publishers we need to embrace this change and [its] challenges wholeheartedly by building direct to consumer channels on social commerce platforms." 

Top 10 most influential Chinese New Media Publishers in 2021
(New Media for Publishing research report, NewRank.cn data

1  China Publishing Group
2  CITIC Press Group
3  Phoenix Publishing and Media Inc
4  Shanghai Century Publishing Group
5  Zhejiang Publishing United Group
6  Anhui Publishing Group
7  China Education Publishing & Media Group
8  Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group
9  Central China Land Media Co. Ltd.
10 China Industry and Information Technology Publishing & Media Group

Alicia Liu is the founder and managing director of Singing Grass, a business consultancy advising on access and development strategies for the Chinese market.