While one report citing a $55 billion value for the Chinese book market cannot be taken as gospel, a new report from China’s online giant Alibaba adds weight to the possibility the USA’s claim to be the world’s largest book market is now out of date.

As reported here at TNPS a few days ago, a report from China’s Books and Periodicals Distribution Association valued the Chinese publishing industry at $55 billion in 2018, which if confirmed will make China far and away the largest publishing market on the planet.

China ended 2018 with 225,000 bookstores and a $55 billion valuation. Has China usurped the US as the world’s largest publishing market?

Alibaba, which drew its numbers from its own online platforms, including Tmall, Taobao, Xianyu and the Alibaba ebook store Alibaba Literature, attributed the increase to,

easy and convenient ways to buy books and the popularity of e-books.

The report asserts 30 million additional readers appeared in 2018, mostly from those born in the 1990s and 2000s, purchasing an average of 5.5 print books, but in this demographic ebooks were the preferred reading format.

Alibaba offered a further breakdown:

Compared with their elders, young Chinese born in the 1990s and 2000s prefer e-books to print books. 46% percent of e-book readers are people born in the 1990s. People aged 18 to 34 account for more than 60 percent of users on Tmall’s e-reading app. The peak time for reading books on cellphones is from 9 pm to 11 pm.

Fiction, success literature and books in social sciences and the humanities are the most popular book genres for e-reading, while for traditional reading, people turn to children’s literature, textbooks and supplemental materials, picture books, magazines and journals.

The year 2018 also saw a boom in sales, swaps or giveaways of used books. Data from Xianyu showed that over the past year, Guangdong residents traded or gave away 1.59 books per person on average, the most in China, followed by Shanghai residents with 1.11 books and Beijing residents with 1.08 books.

Via China Daily.

Given its 1.4 billion population and its 800 million internet users this addition of 30 million readers – something a book market like the US, operating at near saturation point, can only dream of – is entirely plausible, but the real question is, could this be just the tip of the iceberg?

Alibaba is certainly a major player in the China book market, but it’s not the only player. In terms of ebooks and online literature sales Alibaba Literature is generally recognized as coming second to Tencent’s China Literature, which was spun off last year for $1.1 billion IPO.

Tencent’s China Literature IPO the biggest in a decade

And presumably few if any of sales from the 225,000 bookstores that China ended the year with will be included in the Alibaba numbers.

Back in April 2018 it was being suggested the Chinese ebook market alone could top a $5 billion valuation by 2020.

If we allow for Alibaba’s 30 million new readers in 2018 and then assume even a conservatively similar figure from other players, then whatever the actual volume and value of the China book market we can safely assume it will be much bigger than we’ve previously allowed.