Selling books to China needs patience

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FRANKFURT, Oct 13 (Reuters) Western publishers eager to sell their books to China said they need time, painstaking diplomacy and good connections to do business there, even though China says its book market has become more open.

With the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in sight, Chinese publishers say they want to improve China's cultural and business image through book imports, but admit that state control makes it a tricky business.

''It's not free, it's not easy and we must pay more attention to some sensitive topics,'' said Li Pengyi of the China Publishing Group Corp., which is owned by the government.

''I would like to advise our international counterparts to be patient.'' All publishing houses in China are controlled by the state, and oreign publishing groups are banned from setting up there independently.

But Western publishers say they are willing to bargain, negotiate and compromise because in a country of 1.3 billion, the potential market is huge.

''People are taking a lot more interest in the Chinese market maybe than they did even five years ago,'' said Ann-Katrin Ziser, rights manager at Transworld Publishers, an imprint of publisher Random House.

''Most publishers would use a sub-agent to do business because it has been so closed and they don't really know enough about the market. You need someone on the inside,'' she said yesterday.

Foreign publishers can get into the market through licensing rights for translation, joint projects where companies divide publishing tasks with Chinese firms or via joint-venture companies, majority-controlled by the state.

Publisher Macmillan has accessed one third of the Chinese market for primary-school textbooks in a co-deal with a Chinese publisher, selling 200 million books.

Textbooks and encyclopaedias are one thing, said Caroline Lauder, rights manager at Dorling Kindersley, but anything with a political element is a bad idea.

''If we are doing anything historical with sections on China and we don't have the 'right' point of view, then that is difficult,'' she said. ''Ideas that Changed the World'' had needed ''a few small changes'' for a Chinese audience.

''We want to work with the Chinese publishers in that way and we don't want to offend the government,'' she said.

The banning of books, magazines and newspapers has long been common in one-party China, where the Communist Party exercises strict control since the 1949 revolution.


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