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China Daily Global / 2021-05 / 21 / Page002

Reading marks new chapter in internet age

By XU LIN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-05-21 00:00

Online influencers recommend titles through short videos

Beijing teacher Bai Yun shares her thoughts about reading books in a 30-minute online video every month, impressing audiences with her erudition and appearance.

The 29-year-old has attracted more than 211,000 fans on the short-video sharing platform Bilibili, who watch Bai's videos in their spare time to learn about the books she recommends.

"I like to share my interests and enjoyment with others. My videos act as company for those who want to read books," said Bai, who reads about 50 titles a year and instructs senior middle school students in broadcasting and teaching at an education center in the Chinese capital.

Young Chinese have set up accounts on such platforms to share their views on reading, with those who produce creative and good-quality content on the internet becoming influencers in various fields.

The Chinese Academy of Press and Publication recently released the 18th annual report on people's reading habits, with more than 46,000 questionnaires collected from 167 cities between September and December.

The report found that 81.3 percent of Chinese adults read either in print form or on their mobiles and other digital devices last year, up by 0.2 percent from 2019.

Adults read 4.7 printed books and 3.29 digital ones on average last year, compared with corresponding figures in 2019 of 4.65 and 2.84. Some 11.6 percent of the respondents read more than 10 printed books last year, and 8.5 percent said they had read more than 10 e-books.

With social media platforms only recommending books in the fields that interest Bai based on big data, she visits bookstores to discover works on a range of subjects. In addition to novels, she enjoys books on social sciences, which she reads to broaden her knowledge.

Since she has been making videos, Bai has discovered works on psychology, law and economics, and has found there are many good-quality books that provide readers with a basic knowledge of such subjects.

"I'm a pragmatist. Whatever books I read, I like to relate them to my life, put myself in other people's shoes and share my feelings. Many fans are interested in this," she said.

"Young people want to know about every aspect of society and others' lives. It's inspiring for them when they associate characters or incidents in a book with real life."

Bai, who loves music, carefully chooses background accompaniment to match the content of a video to convey certain emotions. She said fans welcome her reading some passages of a book aloud.

When she was writing her postgraduate thesis in 2017, her back ached so much that a doctor told her to spend less time on her phone.

Bai bought a reading rack and started to immerse herself in books and to make videos, one of which was recommended on Bilibili, encouraging her to produce more.

"I'm grateful that I have continued to make these videos for the past few years, which is a significant move for me. Even though I want to give this up every month, I have decided to keep going," she said.

"Through making videos, I've formed the good habit of reading, and my character has been shaped by extensive reading. Compared with previously, I'm more mature and open-minded, feel empathy for others and see things from multiple perspectives," she said.

Bai believes that through reading books people gradually remodel themselves, building their values and outlook on life.

However, along with her counterparts, she has found it time-and energy-consuming to make the videos. She said it is difficult to find enough hours to do this regularly, especially when she is busy at work.

It takes Bai 12 hours to produce a video-with the time equally devoted to scriptwriting, filming and editing.

Initially, she improvised, but spent many hours editing. When opinions on her videos were divided, some netizens posted negative comments, so Bai began to pay more attention to scriptwriting.

As she has gained an increasing number of fans, whose tastes differ, Bai has found it hard to know the type of content they want.

She often reads their comments and messages, adjusting her content to cater to different needs. However, she described this process as "like wading across a river by feeling for the stones, as many fans watch the internet but never post their requests".

Desire to share

Anne, another video maker, who declined to disclose her real name, said she is unhappy that some people don't listen to different opinions on the internet, adding that she has learned to ignore trolls.

Since early 2017, her desire to share has resulted in her posting short videos on Bilibili about reading. She has more than 50,000 fans, some of whom ask questions about reading habits and how to choose books.

Both Bai and Anne are moved by many fans telling them their life stories, with some even sending photos of their newborn babies to Bai to share their joy.

"They take me as a friend they have never met, and some girls even write long messages asking me for advice about their relationships. It makes me feel that it's significant to continue making these videos," Bai said.

Anne, an English-language teacher at an education center in Beijing, likes to read novels and non-fiction.

"For me, reading is a form of entertainment-just as some people love painting or watching movies. We get a lot of pleasure out of them," she said.

She compares books to food, saying that while some people are not fussy about their food, others are keen on certain dishes.

"Some take to reading solely because they want to learn something, but for others, reading can be fun and become a habit," she said.

To make her videos appear more professional, she tried at first to read reviews related to the books she wanted to introduce, summarizing these opinions. However, she was soon at a loss about the content of the works.

"As a teacher, I tend to avoid talking about things that I have not fully understood. For example, you need to read many books to lecture about the philosophy of Taoism," she said.

"I don't want to use other people's ideas and pass them off as my own. So why not focus on my original intention of making these short videos? I want to tell others that reading is a happy pursuit and such happiness can persist. I merely share my pleasure of reading and my thoughts about the books."

Anne is encouraging her fans to start a Readathon, an event in which people are encouraged to read books. Such events first started overseas to make reading more fun.

In China, an increasing number of Readathons have been held in recent years by libraries, bookstores and publishing houses, with most participants reading without a break for several hours.

In a short video, Anne encourages her fans to read a number of books within five weeks, with each one corresponding to a different score. A total score of 10 means a participant has successfully completed a Readathon.

She has various rules-for example, for participants to read a book with a red cover, or a work selected by others.

Marketing approach

Chang Tongtong, a senior marketing editor at CITIC Press Group in Beijing, said that to promote new books, domestic publishing houses often cooperate with influencers in the field of reading.

"The traditional way of promotion is through book reviews by experts and the media. However, in the mobile internet era, people are more interested in short videos than reading articles," Chang said.

"We have discovered this more efficient marketing approach, because short videos are easily spread online."

Chang said young people in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai face great pressure in their jobs and may only want to watch movies or short videos to relax after work.

He said that when people were confined to home during the COVID-19 outbreak last year, book sales in stores and on e-commerce sites dropped, but sales of books via short videos posted on Douyin rose suddenly.

"Before that, our major online sales came from promotions on popular WeChat accounts, but since last year, marketing through short videos has become more efficient," he said.

Chang attributes this partially to the fact that short-video sites such as Douyin have developed e-commerce platforms, making it easy for users to buy directly when they watch the videos. When fans view livestreaming book promotion sessions, they may buy on impulse, he added.

Influencers on Douyin earn commission when users buy books after watching videos on the platform. If publishing houses want to invite a well-known livestreaming host or hostess to promote their books, they need to pay a fixed fee, plus commission.

To introduce their videos, influencers on Bilibili such as Bai and Anne choose new books they like, which are delivered by publishing houses free of charge. Bilibili is a less-commercial platform than others, featuring user-generated content. Users cannot buy goods from the site.

Bai said influencers on Bilibili attract fans due to their online personas and the quality of their videos. The main way they make money is by promoting goods to fans, but fans can find this hard to accept, as they view influencers more as good friends.

Chang said,"Influencers on Bilibili are building their own 'brand value' via good-quality content, and publishing houses like us can provide new books for them to choose their material from."

Zhang Ning, a professor of Chinese literature at Beijing Normal University's School of Chinese Language and Literature, said the trend of promoting books through online short videos shows that the way in which young people receive information has changed.

They have become used to receiving a range of information via the internet. Publishing houses have adjusted to this, cooperating with influencers for promotional activities, he said.

Zhang added that short videos can never replace reading.

"It's essential to keep the habit of in-depth reading, which is also a process of honing your logic and thinking ability," he said.

"One's energy and attention are easily diverted in the mobile internet era. If you indulge in video games and short videos for entertainment over a long time, your ability to think will be affected."




A bookstore in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, offers various services. LUO YATING/FOR CHINA DAILY



Readers enjoy browsing books at the Zhiwu Bookstore in Shanghai. WANG GANG/FOR CHINA DAILY



A bookstore in Harbin, Heilongjiang province. XIE JIANFEI/XINHUA



Bai Yun (top) and Anne enjoy sharing their reading preferences online. CHINA DAILY



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