Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
On March 22nd, 2013, Chinese online author Nanpai Sanshu, who made his name writing The Grave robber’s Chronicles, published the following statement on his Sina blog: “I have decided not to create any more works of literature from now on. I will still retain the pen name Nanpai Sanshu, but I will not use this name to produce any creative works. Finished works that have not yet been published will be published as planned. My apologies; I just can’t do it anymore.” This piece of news immediately became the hottest topic of the day.
Not so long ago, because the identities of online authors had been kept distant from literary circles and their works, having become rooted in the world of ordinary citizens that was the Internet, had strayed far from tradition, a new “upstart” class of Chinese literary circles suddenly rose up. People like Nanpai Sanshu kept showing up among the ranks of the richest authors, and their every word and deed was an effort to maintain their positions as the most talked about subjects in the cultural and entertainment news. But from its early days back in the ’90s all the way up to the onset of the wireless era in 2010, Chinese online literature developed extremely rapidly; more and more corrupt practices cropped up over time. The media had no way of knowing whether the series of events such as Nanpai Sanshu quitting writing indeed heralded an end to the era of mass writing, or if it was simply the beginning of a new chapter.
On this subject, journalists have interviewed industry insiders in an effort to get a glimpse of what is really going on while at the same time fathom how the community of online authors truly lives. What is shocking is that many industry insiders claim that “the internet is an online author’s sweatshop,” especially for writers who have signed contracts with websites. On a daily basis they must upload thousands of words of new text in order to keep their readers from drifting away out of boredom. Except for a minority of authors, online writing is a labor of love. More people are rushing into the currently mature capital market and making a living by writing. Today, domestic online novels are in overabundance; authors must continue panning for gold, and the most direct method to making more money has become to produce material at a faster rate, and write things that the authors have no interest in at all just to meet the requirements of the booksellers. This has resulted in many authors overworking their brains, becoming “physical laborers,” yet there still is no way of guaranteeing quality in their works. And for many authors, writing no longer makes them happy as it once did. As a result, some established online authors have begun to turn to paper book publishing, writing screenplays, or have changed gears and become editors. There are also a few online writers who have returned to their original day jobs in order to take a break from the stress they’ve been under for so long, even if those jobs pay a lower salary than they were making from their royalties.
More and more heavyweight authors are leaving the internet. For online book websites, whose numbers are still on the rise, this has had an enormous effect. Add to this the fact that bookseller websites’ profits are unevenly distributed, causing a number of authors and website employees to leave or job-hop in great droves. In March 2013, China’s largest online book site, Qidian.com, was facing a huge blow from a large number of its employees quitting. Of the 160,000 authors that Qidian.com allegedly has, even though more than a hundred are famous, many more authors are still struggling at the bottom and have not been able to obtain anywhere close to an admirable income. The storm may have temporarily subsided, but over time the concept of online literature will grow less and less distinct. This will put it to the ultimate test, and as for what developments the future holds, we’ll all just have to wait and see.