Media regulation

Supply to dry up for print on demand

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Early this month, China's press authority GAPP issued an order for online POD services to obtain publishing licenses by the end of September or close up shop.

These custom printing services are known as in Chinese as 印客 (or IN客), a formation inspired by "ink" and the pattern behind blog (博客) and podcast (播客). The term also covers custom printing on t-shirts, mugs, and other objects, but these seem to be outside the scope of GAPP's order.

The notice begins with a quote from the eleventh five-year plan for the publishing industry about "encouraging the use of quick, on-demand, efficient, and personalized digital printing." Then it spells out publishing regulations that quite clearly put an end to online POD services:

Entities doing business printing books, periodicals, or newspapers must authenticate and keep a copy of the seal of the publisher and its print authorization certificate; they must not print books, periodicals, and magazines on behalf of individuals or non-publisher entities. This includes fabricated or counterfeit publishers, book and periodical registration numbers, and "internal material" print authorizations, as well as fiction, poetry and essay collections, and "blog" books by individuals who do not have a publisher, a book or periodical registration number, or an "internal material" print authorization.
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"POD"-type websites that publish online digital copies of fiction and essays by individuals, and which provide browsing, reading, or download services, fall under the scope of online publishing and, according to relevant regulations, must obtain an online publishing certificate.

Danwei looked at POD company Inker (上海印客网) last November; the service still insists on its website that personalized printing is not against the law. An article in the most recent issue of China Newsweek article focuses on another provider, Lomo (乐猫印客网).

Lomo claims to have printed more than 50 titles since it opened for business last November. Inker lists a larger number, but it seems to have been overrun by baby memory books and ad-laden sample products. So it's not like GAPP's addressing an epidemic within the publishing industry.

However, a spokesperson for the Shanghai-based Inker told Beijing's Mirror that he welcomed the standardization effort:

We've been printing bound matter without knowing if we ought to be doing promotion, or if we are involved with illegal publications. The notice gives us a standard; although it might affect some of our clients, as a means of standardizing the industry it is not too bad.

Other POD services distanced themselves from the publishing industry, comparing their services to an individual printing out a document from his own personal computer system.

Fang Hui, president of Inoem (中国印客网), said, "We do almost no printed material. Mostly, we do personalized printing of textiles, t-shirts, lighters, and cups. We don't do much with writing." Nong Zhixun, president of InkeCN (大众印客网), told the Mirror that their service was essentially low-volume printing of personalized keepsake items rather than anything that would have a large-scale influence on the marketplace.

Although the China Newsweek article starts out with the story of an author who found success through subsidized POD after being rejected by countless traditional publishers, this new breed of publisher is not really portrayed as the saviour of the unpublished author who cannot break into the closed network of traditional publishing. Government regulation of China's publishing industry means that control of book registration numbers can be a license to print money; Zong Yi, head of the editorial offices of China Translation and Publishing Corporation, revealed that each book registration number is expected to turn a profit of 30,000 to 50,000 yuan.

With business demands like these, even big, well-regarded publishers like Writers Publishing House can act as vanity presses:

After completing his book, Yuan Fenghou at first thought of publishing it with a regular publisher. Through a friend's introduction, he took his manuscript, then called "Love on the High Mountain," to Writers Publishing House. "It probably was six months later than they came back to me with the news that the book could be published, but they wanted me to take on the sales of 2000 copies," recalled Yuan Fenghou. The publisher set the sticker price at 17.5 yuan, so for 2000 copies, Yuan would have to pay the publisher 16,000 yuan. "At the time, my daughter was just about to have a baby and we needed the money. My wife worried at the amount - what if we weren't able to sell them all? She didn't agree with me paying money to put out a book." And that was the end of Yuan's involvement with publishing, right up until one day not long ago, when he saw a newspaper report about a POD website.

One point of linguistic interest: The word 印客 is one of 171 new words on a recent list publicized by the Ministry of Education. There have been complaints that the words on the list are incomprehensible to most Chinese readers, that they are too specialized or too ephemeral. However, the word appears in GAPP's notice in the term "POD-style websites" ("印客"类网站). Given the imprimatur of China's press and publication authorities, 印客 looks like it's here to stay.

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