• Table of contents

    • [+]Preliminaries (3)
    • [+]Introduction (4)
    • [+]Latin America (13)
    • [+]Sub-Saharan Africa (9)
    • [+]Arab World (11)
    • [+]Russia (11)
    • [+]India (11)
    • [—]China (9)
    • [+]Conclusions (6)
    • [+]Appendix (1)


Mobile phones

If the earnings brought in by e-books scarcely amounted to 1.83% of the electronic publishing sector in 2009, there was another field that performed far better. Indeed, according to GAPP itself, content for mobile phones represented 40% of that same total, meaning that the platform on which the greatest flow of digital content is circulating in China is not e-readers – which are too expensive for users and at the same time, paradoxically, not very profitable for hardware companies –, but rather mobile phones.

There are 3 main cell phone operators in China: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, and in all 3 cases the majority shareholder is the Chinese State. With its almost 600 million subscribers – 25 million of whom use 3G devices –, China Mobile controls over 70% of the sector, a success that can be largely explained by its strategy of expansion into the rural market. China Unicom, for its part, has around 150 million users – with 15 million subscribing to 3G. Lastly, China Telecom provides its services to 70 million subscribers – 13 million with 3G. Just as we have observed in other developing regions, in China cell phones have become the real Net, to the extent that China Telecom recently announced that it will no longer invest in fixed Internet connections in rural areas, since the mobile phone option is a far more efficient alternative. [1]

If we bear in mind that the number of users of the company China Mobile is about the same as the entire populations of the US and Western Europe combined, we might get some idea of the extraordinary margin for manoeuvre these giants of communication possess. In 2009, China Mobile launched its own operating system, the oPhone, developed by the local company Borqs and based on Android.[2] China Unicom chose a different path and in March 2011 introduced the WoPhone system – based on Linux –, which simultaneously competes with Android, iOs and Windows Mobile Phone 7.[3]

In addition, the 3 operators all have their respective applications portals. China Mobile’s Mobile Market is said to have around 80,000 developers and 11 million registered users, [4] and according to data from iResearch has become the second biggest apps store in China, after Nokia’s OviStore.[5] China Unicom’s Wo Store portal has 1 million registered clients.[6] Finally, by October 2010, China Telecom had invested 15 million dollars in its eStore, [7] which in its first 7 months had already attracted over 500,000 subscribers.[8] With regard to their position in the Chinese market, Wo Store and eStore are just below Apple’s AppStore.[9]

The considerable dynamism of the mobile network in China has a direct impact on the field of electronic publications. A study by the consulting firm Canalys disseminated in 2010 reveals that 51% of Chinese mobile phone users are in the habit of downloading applications – far above the figure of 29% obtained among Western Europeans.[10] Now, the remarkable thing is that of that 51%, 68% name e-books as the category of applications they most consume, and the figure rises to 76% among young users. It was perhaps for this reason that in May 2010 China Mobile announced its intention to build a store dedicated exclusively to selling digital publications.[11]

The extraordinary boom in social networks especially designed for mobiles is contributing to the same phenomenon, since many of these portals revolve around literature and offer their own content. The sites Byread and EMZ, for example, supply a whole virtual reading community and offer their visitors the possibility of downloading publications to their phones.

These changes have accelerated the emergence of a new kind of literature: powerful, agile texts that, according to Zhang Yiwu – a prestigious professor from the University of Beijing – may reverse the demise of both the short novel and poetry. We should bear in mind that in the case of Chinese, a small screen can give very good results, since a Chinese character communicates much more information than a simple letter in English or French. One pioneering text in this sense was the novel Outside the Fortress Besieged, written by Qian Fucheng in 2004. The 60 chapters composed of a maximum of 70 characters were downloaded over a period of two months by about 800,000 people. After achieving fame and fortune, Qian Fucheng stated:

When I started to write this novel I was excited, I was thinking the text message on a mobile phone should be more than simple jokes, it should work on a higher level of literature (…). The way of writing is totally different because 70 characters is not enough for one sentence in the traditional novel, so I tried to discover a whole new area of literature, and to go carefully. I always remind myself – less conversation and less description. As it’s a novel, I need to tell the story in a good way, but I also need to save space, I cannot waste a single word, or even punctuation marks.[12]

Lastly, there are numerous traditional publishing houses that have begun to experiment with these possibilities. Tianjin Publishing Media Group, for example, has signed agreements with China Mobile and other companies to make inroads into digital publishing and implement industrial micro-novel projects.[13]

  1. Cf. Raymond Yu: “Chinese Telecom: China Mobile Leads the Way”, Bloomberg.com, 5th August, 2009.
  2. Cf. Fletcher, Owen: “China Unicom Plans Mobile Operating System”, The Wall Street Journal, 28th February, 2011.
  3. Cf. “Unicom unveils its Wophone”, People’s Daily Online, 1st March, 2011.
  4. Cf. “CCID Consulting: Open Sesame?? China’s Mobile Internet Market 2010 in Review and Outlook”, Business Wire, 28th February, 2011.
  5. Cf. , iResearch, 20th January, 2011.
  6. Cf. “China Unicom App Store Reaches 1 Mln Registered Users”, Marbridge consulting, 12th February, 2011.
  7. Cf. “China Telecom invests $15 mln in its mobile app store”, Telefax China, 21st October, 2010.
  8. Cf. “China Telecom mobile app store boasts 500,000 users”, TMT China.
  9. Cf. iResearch, op. cit., 20th January, 2011.
  10. Cf. “China outpaces Western Europe with mobile application and game downloads”, Canalys, 21st September, 2010.
  11. Cf. Wuping Zhao: “China Mobile to Build China’s Biggest E-bookstore, Reveals Digital Strategy”, Publishing Perspectives, 16th May, 2010.
  12. Cf. “China’s mobile phones lead a reading revolution”, The Irish Times, 10th January, 2011.
  13. Cf. , Chinaxwcb, 10th December, 2010.


  1. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    Le témoignage et la présentation de Qian Fucheng est une nouvelle source de réflexion sur l’apparition de nouvelles formes d’écritures et de nouvelles modalités d’édition.

  2. thierry quinqueton

     /  27/08/2011

    Petite contribution aux difficultés de la communication électronique avec la diversité culturelle : mon e-reader sony bugue sur les ideogrammes chinois contenus dans les notes du texte quand je lis au format EPUB (mais tout est ok dans l’étude en ligne).

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