One-hour reading apps are what busy Chinese need

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/6 19:43:39

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT



 As the new mother of a 14-month-old toddler, watching a movie or TV show let alone reading a book in my infrequent leisure hours are an extravagance. But as a journalist, I require plenty of reading time in order to influence my own writing skills and stay updated on the latest news. Imagine my joy when I recently learned about "one-hour reading" apps, the latest tech trend in China.

These apps offer 20,000-character summaries, or abstracts, from books, which take less than an hour to read through. Media reports show that ganhuo (useful knowledge summarized from books) apps have become popular among Chinese readers who lack the time or patience to consume an entire book.

Some people may argue that such instant-gratification can not possibly improve one's knowledge base, as there are no shortcuts in reading. But then again, in this information age, where the internet and social media are constantly saturated with content, ganhuo allow us to filter out useless information, fake news and bad books.

With the advancement of technology, China has become a veritable publishing power in recent years, with 496,000 books published in 2016, according to a Guangming Daily report in 2017, the most of any country in the world.

And yet, the quality of these books are satisfactory at best. Chicken Soup for the Soul copycats and other generic "self-made success" stories have flooded the local market. In an impetuous society like Shanghai, where everyone seeks overnight fame and fortune without working for it, every movie star, businessman, TV host and industry leader can now get a book deal to share the "secrets" to their success.

A People's Daily article recently argued that "the topics of success stories are often very personal and some individual success cannot be copied without the specific situation." Thus, ganhuo abstracts of such success stories are sufficient enough for casual readers to glean the most important points without having to trudge through all the usual self-aggrandizing page-filler that such books often suffer from.

Inventories of publishing houses and Xinhua Bookstore chains across the country reached 6.64 billion in 2014, nearly 2.5 billion more than in 2004, according to a 2016 report by China Publishing & Media Journal. One of the reasons for this huge backlog is the low quality of books.

According to Daily Sunshine's interview with All Sages Bookstore general manager Liu Suli, profits from just two successful books can cover the losses of publishing eight unsuccessful books, which is exactly why Chinese publishers are happy to publish anything they can get their hands on.

Another reason for the overstock is the endless reprinting of older books. According to a report by thepaper.cn, there were 580 versions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in China in just the past few years. Indeed, go to any Xinhua Bookstore and you will see stacks of the exact same classics, but from different publishers: 50 versions of Jane Eyre here, 100 versions of A Tale of Two Cities there. 

Moreover, according to the latest national reading survey report by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, Chinese people read only 7.86 books per person in 2016, lagging far behind Nordic countries.

But it is not a phenomenon unique to China. A Pew Research Center survey shows that about a quarter of American adults (26 percent) admitted that they had not read a single book in 2016, whether in print, electronic or audio form. And yet, the Association of American Publishers found that, despite overall revenue decline in the book market, downloaded audio books rose in the first half of 2017, with revenues up 30.7 percent compared to the same period of 2016.

Which shows that, in our ultra-modern fast-paced society, those who don't have the time or patience to read an entire book are nonetheless looking for alternatives to consume knowledge and information in their limited free time. Thus, ganhuo one hour reading apps that have been carefully curated and professionally edited could not have arrived at a more opportune time.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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