For those (independent) English-language authors interested in entering the Chinese Market, Fiberead is a game-changer. The Beijing-based company was founded by Runa Jiang, a graduate in journalism from Tianjin Polytechnic University who once worked for Yeeyan.org, the so-called "Wikipedia of news translation" in China. As reported by NiemanLab, all of the Chinese-language material on Yeeyan "has been translated from English sources by members of the Yeeyan community, almost always for free".
Jiang's expertise in crowdsourcing was crucial when she started Fiberead in 2012. Having correctly identified a strong desire among Chinese readers for fresh, diverse, original and foreign content -- and perhaps an even stronger desire among international authors to enter the Chinese Market -- Jiang and her small team set up Fiberead as an online facilitator for direct collaborations between foreign authors and voluntary Chinese translators. According to Bloomberg Businessweek China, as of September 2015, Fiberead has signed up 300 international authors and 2,500 voluntary Chinese translators.
Fiberead started out by approaching those independent authors who performed relatively well (i.e. among the top 300 to 400 bestselling) through Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program. Having signed up these authors and acquired the Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese rights to their titles, Fiberead puts out calls online for voluntary translators, who have to do a sample translation (500 to 600 words) to demonstrate their translation skills. In most cases, two to four translators are selected to work on a title, with an editor from Fiberead to coordinate the team. Segments of their Chinese translation are published online for public critique. The translators are also encouraged to discuss their work with the authors. Finally, translators edit each other's work to ensure the quality of the finalised translation in terms of style and accuracy. (In 2012 and early 2013, Fiberead also invited voluntary illustrators to design the covers of various titles.)
Starting from 2014, Fiberead experienced rapid growth. Not only did plenty of new authors approach the company, but those authors already published through it were also keen to promote their backlists. In March that year, Fiberead formally launched its website. In July, it was reported by 36Kr.com, "a platform focused on providing science and tech media for Chinese Internet readers and Internet startups" (according to CrunchBase, "a database of the startup ecosystem consisting of investors, incubators and start-ups" that was set up in 2007 by TechCrunch, an online publisher of technology industry news). Thanks to the 36Kr article, Fiberead was able to capture the Chinese public's attention.
- Simplified Chinese and English covers of Sugar and Spice
Fiberead truly grabbed the Chinese public's imagination in November 2014 when Sugar and Spice hit the No.1 spot on Kindle China. According to Saffina Desforges' author page on Amazon.com, she first uploaded the thriller/crime novel to Amazon in December 2010, which did extremely well in United Kingdom and France. Fiberead put out its call for voluntary translators for the book on March 25, 2014, and published the Simplified Chinese ebook on October 23. On November 27, Sugar and Spice hit No.1 on Kindle China's bestselling list. (Note: As of the writing of this article, the Chinese ebook is priced at 1 Chinese Yuan or 0.16 U.S. dollars, reduced from 9.99 Chinese Yuan or 1.57 U.S. dollars).
36Kr quickly reported the success in an article about crowdsourcing on December 25, 2014. According to this article, it took only six weeks for four Chinese translators to complete the translation of Sugar and Spice. In November 2014 alone, the Chinese ebook sold 2,244 copies. Also in this article, Desforges is quoted as saying it is easy to communicate with her Chinese translators, and that other authors have asked her about Fiberead, as they have concerns about issues such as the quality of translation, the protection of intellectual properties in China, and the possible loss of control over promotion and sales of their titles. Desforges is further quoted as saying she has signed over to Fiberead the Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese rights of all her titles, because "there is really not much to lose". (Note: Desforges so far has five out of seven titles published as Chinese ebooks by Fiberead.)
The article also quotes authors Laurel Rockefeller (who so far has two out of six titles published as Chinese ebooks by Fiberead) and Mike Moyer (who so far has one out of two titles published). Rockefeller is quoted as saying she has studied in China and understands the potentials of Fiberead as a publishing platform. Throughout the translation process she maintained constant contact with her Chinese translators, and would normally give in to their choices of Chinese words "as long as they have clarified the cultural reasonings behind them". "Platforms such as Fiberead established a bridge between the author and the translator. Such establishment of trust is the most revolutionary step," Rockefeller is quoted as saying. "Many people cannot understand this, but the book is the soul of its author. You will not hand it over to them if you do not trust them."
Meanwhile, Moyer is quoted as saying his Chinese translators "have a good grasp of the English language as demonstrated throughout their communications, which is the only clue I can use to judge the quality of the Chinese translation". On the other hand, if the translation is of poor quality, then there is no profit for either Fiberead or the translators -- which is why "it is good for us all to share the risk, as we share the same motive [to make money]". Moyer is further quoted as saying he holds the right to choose the titles and cover designs of his books in Chinese. As long as it helps to sell the books, he does not mind whether they are traditionally or digitally published.
One of the online channels Fiberead uses to broadcast its translation and publishing related activities is Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website that is "akin to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook". Fiberead put out its first "tweet" on August 30, 2012, and as of the writing of this article has produced a total of 2,305 of them, most of which are calls for voluntary Chinese translators, discussions and debates on proposed translations, and promotions of newly published titles as Chinese ebooks. In July 2014, however, Fiberead started "retweeting" issues about translation skills, achievements, problems, tips and activities. This may be seen as its attempt to affirm itself as a serious/prominent publisher and supporter/promoter/gatekeeper of quality Chinese translation. In August, Fiberead further started "retweeting" ebook trends, (digital) publishing industry developments, comparison between ebooks and print books, promotions of Chinese books overseas, etc. This may be interpreted as its ambition to assert itself as a major player in contemporary (digital) publishing in both China and overseas.
In December 2014, Fiberead participated in the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) for the first time. Also in that month, it won a first-class prize in Amazon's inaugural AWS Summit and Cloud Startup Competition in China. In January this year, Fiberead was invited by 500 Startups to participate in a four-month accelerator program in San Francisco. The aforementioned TechCrunch did a feature article on this in March, which says:
"One of the reasons Fiberead is able to get book ready for the Chinese market more quickly than traditional publishers is because it works with about 300 qualified translators, which it narrowed down from a pool of 2,000 applications after posting information on social networks like Weibo, WeChat, and Douban. This allows Fiberead to get a book to market in about two to three months."
The TechCrunch article further reports: "Fiberead's revenue-sharing model gives 30% of money earned by a book to authors and 40% to its translators and editors. The company, which does not require a down payment from authors, keep the rest." In the aforementioned case of Sugar and Spice, the article quotes Desforges as saying she sold "almost 7,000 copies of [the] novel through Fiberead between November and the end of December 2014". "The Chinese market is huge and growing fast. We wanted to be in there early and reach as many readers as possible," she is quoted as saying.
As of the appearance of the TechCrunch article on March 9 this year, Fiberead had "100 authors on its roster and 200 titles available on its website. Thirty-three of those have also been released through other distribution channels, including Amazon.cn, Alibaba, JD.com, Dangdang, NetEase, Baidu, and iBooks". In the aforementioned Bloomberg Businessweek China report, which appeared on September 14, Fiberead is said to have acquired the Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese rights to 450 titles, among which "more than 80 have been translated, with more than 70 currently for sale online".
As China's General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) only issues ISBNs to government-recognised publishers, Fiberead has been working with Zhejiang Publishing United Group to promote its Chinese ebooks through the aforementioned distribution channels. According to the Bloomberg Businessweek China article, for each Chinese ebook sold in this way, the distribution channels take 30% of the profit, with the remaining 70% divided between Fiberead, the author and the translators. Meanwhile, the article reveals Fiberead's plan to produce print-on-demand (POD) books by the end of this year, with free ISBNs to be provided by Beijing's Cultural Creative Industrial Park.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned 36Kr article reported in December 2014 that Fiberead intends to ask authors to handle the pre-press costs, which are likely to reach 10,000 to 15,000 Chinese Yuan (approximately 1,573 to 2,358 U.S. dollars). This is despite the fact that Fiberead recently received 4.7 million Chinese Yuan (approximately 739,150 U.S. dollars) from investors, including 4.1 million Chinese Yuan (approximately 644,832 U.S. dollars) from two Chinese venture capitalists and 10,000 U.S. dollars from 500 Startups.
Fiberead CEO Runa Jiang is quoted as saying: "This is the same as authors investing [money] on their own books. To European and American authors, 15,000 Chinese Yuan is not much. Plus the sales figures of Fiberead's Chinese ebooks can serve as an indicator [to their potentials as print books]. Furthermore, because here at Fiberead our pre-press costs are low, our break even point will also be low. Therefore we can recover all the expenses before our print run hits the usual 3,000 copies."
The 36Kr article further reports: "Because there are no post-press costs such as distribution and storage, and because there is definitely no need to stock books, Runa considers POD a very suitable publishing method, as all the books will be printed only after they have been purchased... In sum, all Fiberead needs to handle is its operational costs."
Author's Note: This article mainly covers the story of Fiberead and how it can help (independent) English-language authors to promote their titles in Chinese. In the days to come, I will discuss the pros and cons of crowdsourcing translation and other ways to enter the Chinese Market.