China presents challenges and opportunities

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In the August/September issue of Research Information we asked a range of people about the needs and challenges of Chinese researchers accessing information and communicating their research results. Now, Sian Harris asks what this means for Western publishers working in China, and for Chinese publishers wanting to move into international markets

Nicola Gulley is editorial director of IOP Publishing

The IOP Beijing office opened in July 2000. Our chief representative and editor-in-chief, Mingfang Lu, has been central to building links with key institutes, managing workshops on how to get published and liaising with partner titles within China.

The number of papers published in IOP journals from authors based in China has increased over 135 per cent between 1991 and 2008. This is against a background of increased competition and higher quality selection criteria. In 2001 rejection rates for journals were between 34 and 55 per cent. In 2009 the figure was between 55 and 85 per cent.

We distribute our Chinese partner titles outside of mainland China in print and electronic versions and promote them along with IOP journals. We do not do the editorial, production or printing but do some pre–production English editing. We also do post production work such as hosting online articles, indexing and reference linking. However the partners are also investing in improvements to their own websites to make web access for submitting and accessing articles as easy as possible.

A number of the partner titles we collaborate with within China also have very high rejection rates and high quality criteria but there is still a perception of lower-quality articles published in these journals, despite the journals also having good impact factors.

Visibility is key to changing perceptions of content. We recently launched our Asian-Pacific portal to promote and highlight key research from within the region. This links to local languages sites including

Hubertus Riedesel, executive vice-president of physical sciences and engineering at Springer


Hubertus Riedesel, pictured with Jinghai Li, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

The way of doing business in China is different from the West and can inhibit many academic publishers from being able to enter and engage with Chinese scientists, universities and publishers. However, with time and effort, Western publishers can cultivate a fruitful relationship with the country.

While many publishers struggle to set up their infrastructure in the Chinese market, due to the many bureaucratic and political hurdles, it is possible for relationships to flourish. For example, Springer has developed a solid foundation over a 30-year period and has expanded its close contacts in China. Springer has had an office in Hong Kong since 1985 and in Beijing since 2006.

Such relationships are forged at book fairs and conventions where the West can meet the East to discuss their shared industry and developments being made on both sides of the world. These introductions often evolve into long-standing contacts and relationships. These then set the foundation for comprehensive negotiations that result in substantial cooperation agreements with Chinese publishing partners. For instance, Springer was able to develop strong contacts to strategic partners like Science Press, Science in China Press, Tsinghua University Press, Higher Education Press, Zhejiang University Press and the institutes of the Chinese Academy of Science. These relationships paved the way for the creation of leading Chinese scientific journals and monographs in the English language.

In addition to making Chinese research available to the rest of the world, it is also vital for Western publishers to engage with China on future scientific endeavours so that shared scientific pursuits are cohesive. In an effort to lay the groundwork for this dialogue, in 2006 Springer established the Springer Chinese Scientific Publishing Advisory Board – which, in part, seeks to nurture the exchange and cooperation between Chinese scientists and their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Springer’s Chinese Library of Science (CLoS) is the largest collection of research from China in English, consisting of almost 90 English-language scientific journals – of which 45 are now indexed in the Thomson Reuters index. With these publications, researchers and library users worldwide gain access to Chinese scientific work that was once not easily available to the international scientific community. All the CLoS journals have international editorial boards, with most of them counting at least one third of their members from countries outside China.

Deborah Yang is Chinese but works for Charlesworth in the USA as its account manager and communication officer. She has experience of academic research in both China and the West

For Western publishers in China, if a journal has a high impact factor, it is easier to get subscriptions. Budgets are a big concern to users or librarians and they only allocate funding to journals that are absolutely essential or rank top in their subject area.

For publishers who do not have high impact factors, the marketing work will be comparatively harder.

For Chinese publishers in the West, the big challenge can be the language. Many Chinese researchers have problems with this.

Antoine Bocquet is associate director Asia-Pacific, Nature Publishing Group, and executive vice president of NPG Nature Asia-Pacific


There is still room for expansion in China. However, after starting out at low pricing, many Western publishers are now struggling to obtain the true value they perceive in the Chinese market. The Chinese government also increasingly insists that Chinese journals acquired by foreign publishers are made freely-available in China. Piracy is another big challenge. For market segments where protection of IP is not a real concern (e.g. the hospital market), publishers are losing ground to pirates who can provide unauthorised electronic document delivery service very cheaply.

China has a good internet backbone, when access is allowed. As China is a blank slate for much content, there will be opportunities if the government relaxes restrictions on disseminating information. Right now, the biggest opportunities are in expanding the businesses based on selling large databases of journal content, as more universities have more sophisticated research needs.

Tony Zhou (left, pictured with business partner Boudewijn Heeren) is managing director of Inspirees International, which represents Western publishers in China and Chinese publishers in the West


Market access is the biggest challenge for foreign publishers in China. The publishing industry is still a protected area in China and even private Chinese companies have not been able to register as publishers. Foreign publishers and book sellers are not allowed to sell foreign publications directly to the market. This limits the business development of foreign publishers in China. However, at the end of 2009, the Chinese government lifted the restriction for Chinese private companies; it is only a matter of time before the Chinese market becomes more accessible for foreign publishers too.

The cost of publications and databases from foreign publishers is still quite high for Chinese customers, who find themselves not strong enough to negotiate the price with foreign publishers. Chinese researchers can’t easily access all the information needed, especially that from smaller publishers.

Foreign publishers will have to be more flexible to succeed in the Chinese market, and it is important to have a good local team present in China. Discussions at governmental level will also help to open the Chinese market more.

The demand for foreign scholarly publications and database will further increase. Ebooks and the mobile internet will also create opportunities for foreign publishers with great content. Teaming with a local company in China for local product development is a key to the success for mobile internet business.

Currently, interest in the West from Chinese publishers is more government-driven than commercial driven. For Chinese publishers, the lack of original content (especially in the academic field), the size and not being international are the biggest challenges. For this reason the Chinese government is consolidating the publishers into several publishing groups in order to compete in the international arena in the future.

More and more Chinese publishers will seek collaboration with foreign publishers, which will also create great opportunities for foreign publishers.

I anticipate that foreign publishers will see more growth of their business in China but the competition will also increase. They will develop more local products for the Chinese market. Foreign publishers will also become more active in acquiring Chinese authors and editors as R&D in China will increase quickly in the coming years. Print-on-demand will be used by more Chinese publishers who are becoming more cost-sensitive. Within five years, China will open its publishing market, with several big Chinese publishing groups able to compete at an international level.

Mark Cassar (pictured with Xingtao Ai, head of AIP’s China office), publisher of journals and technical publications at American Institute of Physics (AIP), which launched an office in China earlier this year


Our author base is extremely international. In the last few years China has really taken off in terms of scientific output. Physics is an international activity. People just happen to live in different countries. But, given its rapid growth in recent years, when we try to mirror the international spread of our authors in our reviewer pool and editorial boards, China takes on an increasingly significant role so this was an obvious choice for our first international office.

In China there is a strong push to publish in Western journals, and a lot of the best work gets showcased in international journals. There is a language barrier – some of the papers aren’t even written in good enough English for them to be reviewed – but it’s been getting better over the last five years or so. Many Chinese journals also publish in English.

The big challenges are that China is a very big country where lots of research is being done. We’ve sited our office near several major physics research institutions and are trying to stay on top of the trends in physics. Researchers also tend to know the journal brands but not their publishers. There are some cultural differences too.

The educational infrastructure doesn’t really mimic Europe and North America, and there is a whole unknown layer of institutions. To get close to the Chinese physics community we need to have people there. We have a Chinese national working in the office but it is also important for people from the USA to visit. We plan to visit places where we have authors, tour their labs and talk with them about their research, as well as issues such as funding. Engagement at conferences is also important, to show our support and see the key people. It is good to meet new graduates and educate them about journal processes too.

Social networking tools will be an interesting development to watch in the future. It’s part of Chinese culture to communicate. It seems that everyone in China has a mobile phone too.

The Chinese publishing industry is also going to grow and become more international. To be involved in that in some way would be a success story for us. We hope having an office there will send out the message that we are serious about China.

Adrian Stanley (pictured here with Chinese editors) is CEO of The Charlesworth Group (USA), which sells and markets Western content to Chinese libraries and provides global publishing services


For Western publishers (the smaller ones without local offices in China), I believe there are challenges in communicating and understanding the culture; cultivating long-term relationships and partnerships; and knowing the market and how to work in it.

Another challenge for Western publishers is that Chinese institutions like hosting legacy content on their own platforms. That is a challenge, as publishers are often concerned about letting their content be elsewhere. As a company we find that we are increasingly being called on to get involved with these deals to provide reassurance. Having offices or representation in the country helps, but companies need to have the right approach. I’ve seen many people try to go to China and fail.

For Chinese publishers, there are challenges to promote and market their content outside China. University presses have published in Chinese in the past, but they are now trying to be more international. Many of the best Chinese authors already want to publish in international journals.

Yan Shuai, director of journal publishing at Beijing Forestry University and president of the Society of China University Journals

One big opportunity for Western publishers in China is joint publishing, because some journals wish to increase their international influence. Another opportunity is rights licensing. There is also potential for western publishers to do training in China. However, they should be careful because China’s General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) restricts this.

Many Chinese scholarly journals are seeking high impact in their field worldwide, so they might be interested in cooperation. I predict that networking will replace printing to a great extent; Chinese journals will have more contributions from abroad; and editorial committees will become more international.

David Swinbanks is publishing director, Nature Publishing Group and CEO of NPG Nature Asia-Pacific


One of the biggest challenges facing Western publishers in China is that they cannot set up 100 per cent-owned publishing operations in China. They can only set up a joint venture with a Chinese partner with a minority shareholding for the Western publisher. So Western publishers either set up publishing services companies (which can be 100 per cent-owned) or enter into partnerships or publishing contracts with Chinese publishers.

There is a danger that, as the quality of Chinese scientific output grows and the strength and the capabilities of Chinese science publishers improves, Western publishers may find themselves restricted in what they can achieve in China. This won’t happen overnight because, at this stage, Chinese science publishers still have a lot to learn from the West and it will take quite a few years to catch up. But Western publishers may face quite a challenging situation with local Chinese competition 10 or 20 years down the road, unless they are allowed to play on a level playing field with their Chinese counterparts.

Another challenge facing Western publishers is quite extensive exploitation and abuse of their copyrights by pirates operating in the online world. The Chinese government is committed to the protection of IPR; it is in China’s best interests to protect IPR as Chinese companies in areas like electronics become strong players in the world markets. But protection at the local level remains weak and there are several cases of blatant exploitation of copyright of Western content.

The pressure to publish and problems of fraud and plagiarism are serious issues that China has to address and something that Western publishers have to be conscious of. We, and other Western publishers, are making a lot of effort to educate the Chinese scientific community in how to publish in top scientific journals – but more could be done on this front.

Language is not such a problem for the top scientists in China, as they have often trained in the West and have good English language skills. But to reach the middle and lower-tier research organisations and universities, and the general public in China, language is a barrier. It is also an opportunity if we can provide content in Chinese. We run a Chinese-language website that highlights some of the top papers from Nature each week and we anticipate that we will publish more in Chinese in the future, just as we have already done in Japan.

Translating content into Chinese on an extensive scale accurately and in a form that is natural and readable is costly and challenging (as we have already found in Japan) and the challenge is to come up with business models that cover the costs and makes it a profitable exercise. We are beginning to find ways to do this as the Chinese market.

The biggest opportunities lie in the rapidly-growing output of high-quality research from China, but also in publishing the growing output of scientific papers in general from China. If ways can be found to fund open-access (OA) publishing from China with appropriate fees to cover the cost of publishing this could become a significant opportunity for publishers, given the massive growing output of research papers from China and the desire of the Chinese authorities and institutions to make their research better known to the world and freely available.