China: where are we now?

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The overall growth in Chinese papers published in Western journals is rapid, writes Caitlin Meadows

For many publishers, not least in the STM sectors, China may not be a new market. However, a mixture of factors is creating an environment that is enabling, if not requiring, publishers to keep focus on the adapting context of the Chinese market. As the political and research-centric dynamics of recent years also provide evidence to support greater opportunities emerging in open access publishing, these in turn encourage publishers to adopt a holistic approach in forging close links to the author-researcher community through country-tailored ‘author services’ and to developments in publishing models.

Web of Science statistics demonstrate that 9.3 per cent of papers published in 2011 came from China; by 2014 this had grown to 14.4 per cent. In some disciplines, Chinese papers have overtaken those from the US. Quality of submissions may be an issue (which itself serves to provide evidence to show the growth in services providing language editing and submission-support initiatives), but it is also true that many publishers report improvements in quality and lessening rates of reject-on-receipt in recent years. Direct engagement by publishers with their author-researcher audience has been instrumental here, e.g. in providing ‘How to’ resources for potential authors in the form of seminars; local-language ‘help’ resources like Notes for Contributors; and local-language social media and web-based content.

Language and localisation

It may seem obvious, but the Chinese speak a different language (well, languages – but Mandarin predominates). English skills in top-level institutions have improved in the last few decades. However, more subtly, even for those who speak excellent English, some key points might be missed due to unfamiliar terms and expressions. In any discipline, researchers may be familiar with discipline-specific terminology, but not ‘publishing speak’.

Our experience has shown that Chinese websites and local social media drive traffic to publishers’ online content and help local SEO and Chinese search results (Baidu). Email campaigns and marketing materials in Chinese receive more feedback; call campaigns and local help desk services should be always in Chinese.

Even for publishers newer to the market, advice on local-language resources from expert agencies/partners can save time and money in the long run: building brand awareness is the first step before sales will take hold.

Project 211 and 985, marketing tiering and R&D emphasis

First initiated in 1995, Project 211 is an initiative from the Ministry of Education to improve the standards of research in some 116 of China’s top universities (which together deploy c.70 per cent of total research funding). The list of universities is publicly available and publishers are urged to reference it against their own subscription and submission profiles. Other lists for reference include Project 985, aiming to support 39 leading universities in China on building ‘world-class’ university, and 985 Project Innovation Platform, to support leading research projects in selected areas. Out of around 3,000 universities, several hundred may be classed as ‘Tier 1’, with the rest ‘Tier 2’ (whose budgets are lower and infrastructure less advanced, but still with opportunities for initiatives such as discounted print or limited online-access subscriptions). 

China is expected to overtake the US in R&D spending by 2019. Note the opportunities in newer areas such as nanotechnology, but also those which reflect China’s own socio-economic context (e.g. air pollution, biodiversity, nuclear science, stroke and neurorehabilitation).

Open access

Mandates in support of green OA were announced in May 2014 alongside developments in OA repositories. (View for a good analysis here, including key players like CAST, the Chinese Association for Science and Technology.) It remains to be seen how the transition of library budgets for acquisitions will translate into open access funding, but the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) supports institutional membership initiatives, and has itself set up a portal to its own (and affiliated publishers’) OA titles:

Co-publishing and the local market

Co-publishing between Chinese and Western publishers is well established and opportunities exist, not least for new journal launches (and in this context note the opportunities in key novel research areas mentioned above). But what of China’s own ambitions? Out of c.5,300 STM journals in China, around 240 are published in English. In 2013, together with the Ministry of Education, CAS and the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), CAST launched a nationwide project to enhance the international impact of English-language STM journals. The extent to which these will compete with the top Western journals in the future remains to be seen, but following their progress will provide context to the overall development of Chinese English-language research publication.

In summary, publishers who keep close to their authors, and close to the R&D and funding developments (and the funding bodies themselves), should be poised to enjoy the benefits of engagement in this expanding and dynamic market.  

Caitlin Meadows is publishing services director at The Charlesworth Group, which provides services to the academic publishing sector, including sales, marketing and consultancy in the Chinese market as well as editorial and writing support services to ESL authors. The author would like to acknowledge the expertise and input of colleague Xiaoying Chu, who herself has co-authored an important market report update on the Chinese market with Professor Paul Richardson. The report is free to PA members and available for purchase from