This article is submitted by our guest blogger Ben Jiang.

China’s digital distribution market is facing more fierce competition as Taobao is about to launch it’s iOS reading app “Taobao Book Store” in the Apple App Store in May after currently ongoing beta tests, according to people familiar with the matter.

e-Book market large enough for Taobao’s second shot, even after the recent Baidu fiasco

The move came after Baidu Book Store was accused of piracy which caused turmoil in Chinese publishing world last month. Baidu disclaimed any misconduct at first during the negotiation with a delegation composed of representatives from both the writer and publisher world, but then issued a statement on March 26 to “feel sorry for hurting some writers’ feeling” and promised to clear illegal literary work. After the clearance, the number of literary works on Wenku fell from the peak 10 million, 70% of China’s total file sharing market according to company figures, to about 20,000.

And this isn’t Taobao’s first venture into digital distribution arena. Taobao launched Taohua, last July in an effort to dip into the premature market. Interestingly, Taohua had encountered it’s own piracy problem last November, no more than five months after its ambitious debut. Subsequently, Taohua publicly apologized and cleared thousands of illegal content (over 12,000 books).  These content were uploaded by individual users during a campaign in last November, that aimed at facilitating UGC content by offering cash bonus of RMB 0.1 yuan per uploaded document.

First Chinese-language digital publication portal on iOS

The soon to be launched iOS app was positioned as the first Chinese-language digital publication portal for copyrighted content on iOS ecosystem.  App users would choose, read, rate and buy original books via the platform. According to people familiar with the matter, Taobao Book Store would cooperate with the publishing houses in China, including major ones such as Citic Pub, Motie Wenhua (the biggest private held publisher), ZheJiang Publishing United Group, China Renmin University Press and more. Taobao Book Store would act as the distributor and take its cut on e-book sales.

It was said that the Taobao Book Store app will cover both iOS and Android platform with iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android phone support. The iPhone would be launched firstly in May while other versions could be expected later.

e-Reader market very active with large players

The digital reading market was on hype in China now as more and more major entities moves into this area, Shanda Interactive Entertainment, Dangdang and Baidu for example.

Baidu partnered with China gadget manufacturer Aigo and 360buy releasing “Baikan”, a Kindle-like e-reader this Feb. Dangdang also announced its plan last November, suggesting an agreement between Dangdang and top-tier publishers would offer 30% of digital content for free. However, readers still need to pay for the item if they want to read it all.

Shanda Literature (SDL), a subsidiary of Shanda Entertainment, advanced into digital bookstore market last March with the debut of YunZhongShuCheng (“Bookstore in the Cloud”). SDL claims 80% of Chinese online literary market share, but YunZhongShucheng actually lacks behind Baidu Wenku in terms of traffic volume according to Alexa.

Except the big guys, some local Chinese app developers are also delving into the market.  Noteworthy ones include ZhangYue (“Palm Read”), Beijing based team with wireless and communications background, and Xiaomi Reader, by Xiaomi (“Small Rice”) invested by Chinese angel Lei Jun.

Zhangyue iReader app on Android
Xiaomi iReader

Steve Jobs announced at the iPad 2 Press conference that over 100 million ebooks sold through iBookStore since its launch in last January. While at Amazon, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the company has sold 115 Kindle books. Jeff Bezos told media that “Kindle books have now overtaken paperback books as the most popular format on”  How big is the Chinese e-books market?  Can Taobao distribution platform garner the same success in Chinese books as Kindle or iBookstore did in English content?  Please leave me a note in the comments section.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. The success of ebooks in the US seems to be a direct result of the rise in ebook friendly devices such as the kindle and iPad. While I’ve seen a lot of ipads when I’m in Beijing and Shanghai airports or ocassionally when at a Starbucks in China, I just don’t sense that these devices have taken off in a massive enough way. I also have asked my friends with ipads and kindles in china where they get their books and more often than not I hear that they have some source where they download it for free. The first kindle user I met in china even showed me how his kindle was flashed with some kind of hacked Chinese rom to enable more Chinese reading functionality and free Chinese content on top of it.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.