Chinese Publishers Turn to TV as Book Profits Spiral

There isn’t a case that the genius mind of heartthrob forensic expert Qin Ming cannot crack. The character has won his web series — “Medical Examiner Dr. Qin” — 1.5 billion views since its premiere in October 2016, making it one of the highest-performing dramas on Netflix-like platform Sohu TV, its exclusive broadcaster.

More striking than Qin’s Holmesian knack for solving cases is that, unlike most of its competition, “Dr. Qin” is not the work of a seasoned web TV production company. Instead, it is the fruit of a new generation of TV producers in China: book publishers. The show, which just completed its opening season, is the first venture by Beijing Bojitianjuan Film and TV Co. Ltd., a production company set up by CS-Booky, one of the country’s largest literary publishers. 

This trend comes at a time when, according to a report by entertainment industry monitor Entertainment Capital, the cost of producing books in China — from the price of materials to editor salaries — is rising. Yet profits continue to narrow, as furious competition among online vendors drives down book prices. “There is a limit to the growth of book sales,” Bojitianjuan’s vice president, Guo Linyuan, told Sixth Tone. “Developing film and television has given us a new means of making a profit.” 

Of course, collaboration between the worlds of the page and the screen is nothing new to China. A number of the country’s most popular TV series are based on novels, an adaptation phenomenon that has gained particular traction in the genre of online literature.

In most cases, those who bear the rights to a literary work — be it the publishing house or the individual author — will sell off those rights to a production company. In developing its own production team, CS-Booky has eliminated the middleman, giving it more autonomy over the screen-adaptation process. 

Filling a gap in the market — those with a thirst for forensic drama could previously only choose among foreign imports like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” — the success of “Dr. Qin” suggests that CS-Booky was right to choose it as the first adaptation of its new drama production venture. Its performance has already surpassed the Bojitianjuan team’s expectations, said Guo, laying the foundation for a second season set to begin filming in April. The production company also has two feature films — a romance and a travel memoir — scheduled to enter production this year. Guo said that the success of “Dr. Qin” has also piqued the interest of new investors, though she could not specify figures or companies, as negotiations are ongoing.

CS-Booky is not alone in making the jump from page to screen. Fellow private publishing goliath Beijing Motie Book Co. Ltd. set up a film and TV production company in 2013 and released its first film in 2016. Motie’s prospects for business success received a significant boost when, in early 2016, the Heyi Group — owner of two of China’s leading video-streaming sites, Youku and Tudou — became its second-largest shareholder. Among state-owned publishing houses, Yilin Press joined hands with best-selling novelist Rao Xueman in 2013 to establish its very own film and TV production company.


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