Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
Qidian.com kicked off the “Platinum Era” of Chinese online literature by launching a group of online novelists into fame. By 2007, every major web portal was vying to sign all sorts of professional authors, and attracted by the chance to pay authors to write books for them, many experienced readers set about the business of trying to create as well, causing the online novel industry to grow to an unprecedented scope.
Very soon, however, because many of their chapters for which they were receiving VIP reading fees were pirated, a large number of authors originally attracted to Qidian.com began to feel disappointed with their prospects with regard to internet copyright security. Added to that, there would always only be a small handful of novels at the top of the pyramid whose royalties were anything to gloat over, and bound by despotic clauses in contracts with the websites, more and more everyday authors began to feel that writing for a living was nowhere near as romantic a thing as they had imagined. In 2009, many authors, including so-called platinum authors from websites such as Qidian.com, began hopping from site to site with increasing frequency. Some even gave up professional writing altogether, and every online book portal’s revenue took a sharp dive as a result. Some even went completely out of business.
But right as booksellers were racking their brains to come up with a way to pick their sales figures back up, all sorts of funny and interesting text messages began to spread like wildfire through cell phones all over the country, and a group of text message authors suddenly turned into “wireless online authors” by publishing their works directly to people’s cell phones by way of a series of many very short chapters. This perked up the ears of the failing book industry. Qidian.com took the lead by cooperating with China’s largest communications corporation, China Mobile, to select a number of highly popular novels and make them available for download via a cell phone application. For just a few dollars, cell phone users could have access to tens of thousands of characters’ worth of text for their reading enjoyment on their way home from work, on the bus, subway, etc. With this, Chinese online literature had suddenly entered a “Wireless Age.” Furthermore, booksellers suddenly were cooperating with every major entertainment media corporation to recommend some outstanding novels for adaptation into television shows, games, cartoons, and so on, thoroughly revolutionizing online novels so that they did not only have to be “read” on one’s personal computer.
“Ghost Blows out the Light” represents the biggest hit of the online era so far. Its author, Zhang Muye, tells the story of a surviving section of a classic work passed down in a family through the generations in which those ancient lost treasures and mysterious creatures are detailed and documented. The protagonist and groups up with a pair of archaeologists, and along their way they encounter all sorts of dangers and pitfalls. Still, they continue exploring bizarre subterranean worlds to reveal what is hidden beneath the shroud of antiquity. This novel started the trend of “grave robber books” in China, taking the lead by being adapted into a cartoon, an audio book, and an online game. From 2008 to 2009, 70% of the novel’s downloads were of “Ghost Blows out the Light” audio books, setting a record for the highest download rate of any novel on Beijing Arts Network (Rbc.cn). In January 2013, new that “Ghost Blows out the Light” would be adapted into a movie was confirmed by its major investor, Wanda Television. The movie by the same name can be expected to hit the theaters by summer of 2014.
Meanwhile, female romance novel author Ming Xiaoxi rose to become the third richest author in China with an income of RMB 3 million in royalties. The novel that made her famous, “There Will Be an Angel to Love You Instead of Me,” is about a lovestruck girl who, after her boyfriend dies in an accident, falls in love with another boy. This kicks off a complex emotional entanglement. The book has been touted as “the most moving love story ever.” Later, Ming Xiaoxi’s other works, including “Summer of Foam” and “Summer’s Desire,” were made one after another into television shows and manga books. Wireless editions of her books have brought her an income that far exceeds that from a traditional online serial novel, and a new edition of “There Will Be an Angel to Love You Instead of Me” was published in 2010.
In conclusion: The Wireless Era of online novels turned works from serialized VIP fee-based novels available exclusively from certain websites to multi-media publications more readily available for consumers, which were thus much more convenient, and as a result, more widely read. But as for reading a book on one’s cell phone, because most cell phone novels are aimed at an on-the-go audience with an appetite for short-term entertainment, their quality has declined somewhat. As for whether or not this will pick up in the future, time will tell.