Who makes money off digital publishing?

As recounted in this week’s edition of the Southern Metropolis Daily book review, Murong Xuecun posted an “Open Letter to Shanda Literature” on his blog complaining that he had received no royalties whatsoever during the three years he granted the netlit giant exclusive digital rights to his book Dancing Through Red Dust (原谅我红尘颠倒 , 2008).

Shanda was supposed to share revenue with the author at a 7:3 split (in the author’s favor), to paid out quarterly. In his open letter, Murong declared his intention to terminate the agreement if his revenue was truly zero. He retracted the open letter when Shanda representatives called him and gave him a full royalty statement, which if anything was more of an insult: the company explained that it only issued royalty statements in amounts greater than 500 RMB, and Murong’s novel had only accumulated 300 RMB in royalties over three years.

That sum represents his share of income from 5.5 million clicks, serializations rights in Singapore, and an e-book.

Murong Xuecun shot to fame with Leave Me Alone, Chengdu (成都,今夜请将我遗忘, 2002), which was posted to the Tianya BBS before making the jump to print. His recent novels have appeared in print first, which may account for their poor performance in the online marketplace.

However, the Shanghai Morning Post adds a wrinkle that suggests there’s more to this than simple reading habits:


Murong Xuecun said, “I asked once in 2009 and they said then that my share was more than 1,400 RMB. More than a year later, that’s become a bit more than 300 RMB. I don’t know how the books are being kept.”

Regardless of how the royalties ended up so low, Murong’s experience will likely lead other print-based authors to think twice about signing e-publishing contracts. Shanghai-based author Chen Cun concludes:


Murong Xuecun’s Red Dust is market-tested and sold quite well. On Shanda Literature it made 100 smackers a year. Who wants partner up with a 100-a-year company?

Ever vigilant against historical revisionism

An anonymous letter that appeared in this week’s Shanghai Review of Books (a supplement to the Sunday Oriental Morning Post) starts off with a standard “long-time reader” intro before accusing the publication of treason:




“Enter” or “Invade”?

For the two-and-a-half years since its launch, the Shanghai Review of Books has been consistently remarkable. Each issue is a must-read for me, and I’ve kept practically every one. However, the language in an interview that appeared in issue #131 on March 20 left me flabbergasted. The first section of the article “Xiao Bai Talks About Concessions” contains the following line: “Still six months away from the total entry of the Japanese into Northern China.” Here, the author commits a grave error of basic history: the author does not write “invasion” but uses “entry” to gloss over it. And instead of writing about the “total entry” of the “Japanese army” into Northern China,  the author writes of “the Japanese.” Does the author mean to imply that ordinary Japanese at that time were coming to Northern China to engage in full-scale trade or tourism? This is no simple factual mistake. Everyone knows that right-wing politicians in Japan revised textbooks for the express purpose of turning the word “invade” into “enter.”

— An ordinary person

Concession 《租界》 by Xiao Bai (小白) is set in Shanghai in 1931 and  first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2010 novel supplement to Harvest magazine and has just been published in standalone form by People’s Literature Publishing House.

Bob Dylan’s body doubles come to China

“Bob Dylan’s coming,” announced the March 4 edition of the Xinmin Evening News. He’ll perform in Beijing on April 6 and in Shanghai on April 8.

Xinmin Evening News, March 4 2011, A17

The page layout proved irresistible to meme-hungry netizens, who replaced Willie Nelson with an array of other people who were not Bob Dylan:

Click for many, many more.

via @ELLE网站Taxloss6.

Overlooked in 2010

As part of Sina Books’ year in review feature, critic Xie Xizhang (解玺璋) introduces some worthy books that did not receive the attention they deserved last year. The article’s title, “Overlooked and overexposed literature of 2010,” extends the promise of some deserving take-downs, but the only overexposed title Xie mentions is Han Han’s ill-fated literary journal Party (独唱团). Here are his underexposed titles:

Heaven/Tibet (天·藏) by Ning Ken (宁肯). A philosophical novel by the author of the well-received City of Masks (蒙面之城, 2001), which was nominated for the 2009 Newman Prize. Xie writes,

Seriously overlooked, it came to the attention of just a small minority despite being an extraordinarily good work. Apart from showing the history and culture of Tibet, the author how Wang Mojie internalized Tibet; one could say that this is Ning Ken’s own process of internalization. In this novel he writes of a thinker, and he inspires the reader to think as well. Some writers today call themselves word-slingers, and their novels are formed by piling words together. Not so with Ning Ken. His fiction is formed from thought. He is an author who is  willing to think, and his works are heavily imbued with logical thinking. In this novel his “thoughts” are numerous and profound, and even contains an essential reflection and suspicion toward thought itself.

The author discussed his writing in an interview with the Beijing Evening News in October, and Paper Republic has more English-language information about the novel.

Flowers of Purgatory (炼狱之花) by Xu Xiaobin (徐小斌). A fairy tale about a princess from an undersea kingdom who tries to navigate the unwritten rules of the modern entertainment industry. I picked this up mid-year but Xu’s narrative rhythm wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and I put it down two chapters in. I’ll have to take a second look. Xu’s family epic Feathered Serpent (羽蛇, 1998) has been translated into English, and Dunhuang Dream (敦煌遗梦, 1996) is forthcoming this year from Atria.

Judas in Bloom (犹大开花) by Du Chan (杜禅), a writer from Henan, is a satire about the intellectual establishment. Critics quoted on the cover call it a modern version of The Scholars (儒林外史, 1750) and a prose version of the ground-breaking TV series “Stories of an Editorial Board” (编辑部的故事, 1991). Before reading Xie’s article, which praises the novel’s memorable characters, I’d never even heard of Judas in Bloom.

Canticle to the Land (大地雅歌) by Fan Wen (范稳). Fan began his “Tibetan Land” trilogy before the Tibet craze of the past few years. This, the third volume, tells an engaging love story involving a Tibetan storyteller, French missionaries, domestic turmoil in China, a living Buddha, and the engagement between different cultures and religions.

Lu Xun’s Mustache (鲁迅的胡子) by Jiang Yitan (蒋一谈) is a collection of short stories told in simple, direct language that stands in conscious opposition to the massive, overstuffed novels that excite newspaper book reviewers.

The Legendary Huang Yongyu (传奇黄永玉) by Li Hui (李辉) is a critical biography of the early 20th-Century artist.

Wang Meng’s Dream of the Red Chamber (王蒙的红楼梦) by Wang Meng (王蒙), who distilled a lifetime of reading the classic novel into twenty-seven lectures.

Xie also picks one translated book: The Red Wheel (红轮) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Ming submarines blockade Japan

Reading through my Douban groups this morning, I came across a twist on the typical online time-travel romance serial:


Ming Empire 1937

A five-day tour of the Great Ming Empire. One day in the present, one year in the Ming. But when our hero reaches the Ming, he discovers that the time is all wrong: 1935?! And to the North is the domain of the Qing….

The Northern Qing, a centralized monarchy, set its capital a thousand miles from the border. The capital of the Southern Ming, a constitutional monarchy, lies just one thousand meters from the frontier. But the Ming possesses our hero.

What did the people of the 20th Century Ming Dynasty wear? How much money did they make? What were the 20th Century Eastern Depot and Silk Brocade Guard like? Who was in charge, the imperial family or the cabinet? How were tank battles fought between the Ming and Qing? How did Ming submarines seal off the islands of Japan?

This synopsis suggests something similar to the early 20th Century futurist political fantasies of Liang Qichao and others: imaginative and even visionary at times, yet static and not all that fun to read.