>>>It’s a good time for publishing in China. A series of reforms dating back nearly 40 years has provided more freedom for national and international investors to launch publishing houses. In 2003, China announced foreign publishers could apply for Chinese ISBNs and, assuming their titles passed stringent government censorship, publish and sell them to Chinese consumers. Since then, more than 60 international publishers have established a presence in China.

Gospel Light and Pacific Resources Intl. quickly responded to the new opportunity, forming ZDL Books in 2003 to serve a growing demand for Christian resources among that nation’s Christian population, estimated at 68 million. ZDL translates, publishes, and distributes approximately 200 Christian titles annually. It also provides web development, social media, video dubbing/subtitling, and consulting services.

Most books are translations of classics and titles by best-selling authors including Max Lucado, Gary Chapman, John Piper, and June Hunt. One surprising entry is Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. General Manager David Ridenour says Chinese Christians have many of the same interests and spiritual needs as North American audiences. Books on marriage, parenting, faith, and leadership are especially popular.

ZDL balances careful, accurate translation with the need to contextualize content to a Chinese culture. Ridenour says authors’ insight into God’s truth often transcends cultural barriers. However, “sometimes publishers or authors come to us with content that is either about too sensitive a topic or too culturally irrelevant for us to even begin the acquisition process.”

 Unique Process

China’s extensive approval process requires considerable documentation, communication, and patience. ZDL developed networks through approved government institutions, including the China Christian Council (CCC). Ridenour says ZDL works with “dozens of organizations” throughout the translation, publishing, and distribution process.

“The CCC has its own unique process for publishing books that’s different than the process we use,” he says. “But… our approval allows us to sell in any market nationwide, whereas publishing with the CCC only allows for distribution in approved ‘Three Self-Church’ distribution points.

“We have a marketing, sales, and customer service team that [manages] e-commerce, brick-and-mortar Christian and secular store, church (and church store), and individual customer relationships,” he adds. “Through the use of third-party warehousing and postal and express companies, ZDL takes advantage of the extensive logistics network that is quickly developing solutions to serve the growing consumer market in China.”

 Maturing Marketplace

With the increase in both Christian and secular publications available, Christians are becoming more discerning and selective about book authors, theology, and writing quality. Ridenour says interest in front list and blacklist continues to grow.

Although most books are translations of English titles, Chinese authors are beginning to emerge. Andrew Yuan, an author and speaker on marriage, has published several books with ZDL.

“Developing local authors is very important to us, but it’s related to the development of the church and pastors in China,” Ridenour says. “It is increasing but very slowly.”

 Digital Growth

More than half of China’s population subscribes to the Internet through mobile phones. The e-book market holds promise for tremendous growth; however, fewer than 15,000 Chinese-language e-books have been published to date. E-book industry growth is hampered by lack of digital rights management, reluctance of print publishers to convert titles to digital formats, government regulations and censorship, and the lack of a standard platform for consuming digital content.

Despite these challenges, ZDL began publishing e-books in 2014 and is distributing titles to a worldwide Chinese market. It’s a smart move. Purdue University sociology professor Fenggang Yang estimates China will overtake the U.S. by 2030 as having the world’s largest Christian population. China also has the world’s largest publishing industry and is the world leader in e-commerce. More importantly, China has 1.3 billion people who need God’s Word and the support of excellent Christian resources.

It’s a good time for publishing in China.

-Lynn Waalkes