söndag 13 januari 2013

Net literature in China

Two days ago I submitted an abstract, "Net literature in China and the professionalization of authors", to the conference "MASH 2013: Making and sharing. Conference on audience creativity". The conference will be held in Maastricht in the beginning of July.

The submission is written together with, and is based on Zi Yang's master's thesis (I've been her advisor). Despite having been formally presented/defended, the thesis is actually not 100% finished yet, but the preliminary title of the thesis is anyway "Reward system and labour relationship for Chinese net authors" It will eventually be available on the web. It's the second thesis about Chinese net literature that I have been the advisor of since Rui Liu wrote her master's thesis about "The business models of net literature in China" two years ago.

Here is the submitted abstract:

Net literature in China and the professionalization of authors
With more than 200 million regular readers, “net literature” has become a huge phenomenon in China during the last 15 years. Serially published “chapters” in ongoing “sagas” are in many ways reminiscent of the regularly published instalments of Charles Dickens’ works of fiction 150 years ago. The main difference is that the printing press has since then been exchanged for the web. The switch to the web brings with it a number of consequences in terms of technological affordances, in business models (for readers, authors as well as for commercial intermediary net literature websites), for reading habits of net literature readers as well as opportunities and conditions for authors. 

This paper describes the “scene” for net literature in China, as well as the results of a study of Chinese net literature authors. Two different net literature websites were chosen and two authors from each of these websites were interviewed. The websites in question are Quidian.com and Zongheng.com. Qidian.com has in many respects been a pioneer and is currently the single largest Chinese net literature website with a market share of over 40% (He 2011). Zongheng.com is Qidian’s most competitive rival and is well known for its generous payment to authors.

While net literature has given many amateur/fan writers the opportunity to become semi-professional authors, their “career trajectories” and economic conditions occupy a space in-between on the one hand traditional established authors and on the other hand (non-published) hobby authors, straddling categories such as professional and fan/user labor and challenging traditional professional fields as well as user-industry relations. 

Chinese net literature authors can in some respects be compared to Western authors of fan fiction, but with the difference that they have contracts and actually get paid for their labor. Authors’ take-home pay can differ and depends on several different variables; quantity and regularity of contributions, type of contract with a net literature website, number of VIP/premium subscribers, additional reader donations etc. For the vast majority, net authorship represents a job by the side, but a small proportion have managed to become established authors with their books also being published and sold physically, on paper. An even smaller slice have reached the status of star writers, licensing their works to the movie or the game industry.  According to earlier studies (Ma 2011), less than 1% of the Chinese net literature authors currently work full-time as authors.

The practices surrounding net literature in China embodies the increasing fuzziness between professional and amateur practitioners (Jenkins 2006) and the hunt for sustainable (business and other) models for media content creation and consumption in an age of connectivity and abundance. Beyond the development and negotiation of different aspects of the relationship and the monetary compensation between 1) net literature authors, 2) net literature websites and 3) readers, yet another challenge in the Chinese context is the constant threat from piracy websites and practices. 

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