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Found In Translation: How social media platforms can help UK publishers understand their market in China

The opening up and continued growth of markets for cultural products in China has not passed by Britain’s cultural industries, and book publishers is no exception. How can social media platforms help?

The opening up and continued growth of markets for cultural products in China has not passed by Britain’s cultural industries, and book publishing is no exception. How can social media platforms help?

Key Findings

  • We find that online translation contests can be effective mechanisms for delivering high-quality Chinese translations of English fiction, but have more limited impact in engaging fans.
  • We confirm that social media platforms like Douban contain valuable insights for publishers on Chinese readers' preferences and traits. In particular, while a number of British writers have multiple popular works on Douban, none – JK Rowling aside – have large numbers of the same fans liking their different titles. We suggest that it may make more commercial sense for publishers to target the smaller hardcore of ‘superfans’ that we are able to identify for different British writers.
  • Interestingly, we show that these superfans also tend to have more developed follower networks, suggesting that they may have potential as gatekeepers for a wider group of readers.

In this paper, we explore how British publishers and writers can negotiate some of the market uncertainties of doing business in China by using social media platforms like Douban. Being at the same time a social media platform,  a publisher and a retailer, Douban permits rights holders to take a data-driven approach to engaging with readers, understand their wider cultural preferences and behaviours, and identify – and exploit – their social networks.  We examine these opportunities through the lens of a translation contest experiment with the novelist, David Mitchell.

Authors

Hasan Bakhshi, Philippe Schneider, Jan Soendermann and Andrew Whitby

You may also be interested in the accompanying report: 'The Publishing Landscape in China: New and Emerging Opportunities For British Writers'.

These reports are the result of a collaborative research project led by Nesta, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), working in collaboration with The Literary Platform and Chinese social media reading site Douban Read, to better understand new and emerging opportunities for UK publishers and writers in China as a result of digital transformation.

Authors

Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Hasan Bakhshi

Executive Director, Creative Economy and Data Analytics

Hasan leads Nesta's creative and digital economy policy and research.

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