Chinese online literature finds fame and fortune on a global scale

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The Shanghai International Online Literature Week opens on Tuesday.

The Shanghai International Online Literature Week event has opened in the city, with international authors honored, adoption of artificial intelligence for creation and translation, and plans revealed to cash in on the boom in micro dramas.

Writers, translators, scholars and representatives from 18 countries and regions have gathered in Shanghai to participate in the international event since Tuesday. The weeklong event is being held for the second time, organized by industry regulators and Shanghai-based China Literature, the country’s biggest online literature site backed by Tencent.

Shanghai’s online literature is opening up a broader global vision with increased awareness worldwide. Wang Yayuan, vice director of the Shanghai Publicity Department, said at the opening ceremony on Tuesday that in the future, Shanghai would enrich the world’s literary treasury with high-quality masterpieces, strengthen copyright protection and IP development (in such genres as games and drama), and promote cultural exchanges to “make the world a better place because of literature.”

In 2022, China’s online literature industry generated revenue of 4.06 billion yuan (US$572 million), with almost 40 percent growth year-on-year. WebNovel, an overseas site of China Literature, has published 610,000 works online with a combined 220 million visits, according to an industry report released at the event.

International authors are awarded

During the weeklong event, the 2023 WebNovel Spirit Awards (WSA) ceremony was held to award international authors for their writing.

Nineteen writers won WSA awards and shared a prize pool of US$70,000, and would also be given priority for IP development.

Among them, the works of American author WhiteNightingale, Canadian writer Aoki Aku, Ghanaian writer Glorious_Eagle, and Indonesian writer ForeverPupa were awarded WSA Gold Prizes.

“The freedom that writing has granted me has made me a better person,and I would like to think that even the most mundane of experiences can be shaped into part of an amazing work of fiction,” said Aoki_Aku, a WebNovel author who flew to Shanghai to receive the award.

WebNovel is an overseas platform owned by China Literature since its debut in 2017. WebNovel supports global writers to create their own stories and update novels in a serialized format. By October, WebNovel had approximately 400,000 authors and had released around 610,000 web novels.

WebNovel also announced its Multilingual Development on Tuesday, which will translate selected works into multi-languages and publish them in more regions. The languages cover English, Spanish, Indonesian, Portuguese, German, French, Thai, and Japanese, and will be translated with the help of AI, allowing great stories to reach a broader global audience.

The booming micro-drama business

Besides online literature, China-developed micro-dramas have also spread widely around the globe.

With each episode running for less than five or even three minutes, the dramas portray exciting and attractive stories. The popular titles include an ordinary and timid son-in-law who transforms into the influential alpha male of the family; a once-abandoned husband who completes a magnificent transformation and takes revenge, and how an average Joe becomes a business genius and wins his business battle.

Usually, the first batch of episodes are free but viewers have to pay, watch accompanying ads, or subscribe monthly or annually to unlock further episodes.

In November, ReelShort, a China-based micro-drama app, briefly took the top spot on the free entertainment chart on the US App Store (it has fallen to No. 24), thanks to its heated market response.

With huge resources for both work and authors, China Literature has sped up business ventures in the new sector.

During the event, it announced it would establish a fund and traffic support valued at 100 million yuan to support micro-drama creation and production.

China Literature had seen “surging demand” for IP licenses for micro-dramas, while AI translation would help efficiency and solve existing problems such as poor translations in the drama, Hou Xiaonan, China Literature’s chief executive and president said.

In 2023, China’s micro-drama market size would reach 37.4 billion yuan, a 270 percent growth year-on-year, analysts said. The micro-drama wave fueled sales of media shares, including ReelShort’s parent firm, in the stock market since November.

Some of the dramas, however, contain vulgar content. Chinese regulators have made a “blacklist” mechanism to better regulate the market.p

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