FRANKFURT (Reuters) - China, the world's second-biggest book market after the United States, has long been a consumer of works from other countries, now it is making a push to export its own literature abroad, helped by the e-book revolution.
Industry players at the Frankfurt Book Fair said they had observed a change in Chinese exhibitors' focus from acquiring foreign rights to selling the products of China's developing publishing sector.
With sales volumes of nearly $18 billion, China is the largest buyer of rights and licenses for books published overseas.
Now Chinese publishers, most state controlled, are jumping aboard their government's "Go Out" policy instituted in 1999 to promote Chinese investment abroad.
Beijing is encouraging publishers to develop digital content to create more competitive companies and prepare them for stock market listing. It has urged banks to provide loans and pushed for agreements with wireless operators like China Mobile to propel the digitization of publishing.
"While there has long been demand from international publishers to license works to China, there is also a huge drive underway to license titles in the opposite direction," said Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License, a digital market place for book rights.
"China is full of available titles with international appeal, and many Chinese publishers have cited selling to international publishers as their key priority."
Thanks to a rapidly growing middle class spending heavily on its children's education, publishers in China have developed a broad range of learning materials they now feel ready to sell to the world.
In Frankfurt, the book trade's biggest annual gathering, about 40 publishers displayed their wares on the stand of the China Publishing Group (CPG), including bilingual picture books retelling classic Chinese tales with colorful illustration and designed for children learning either Mandarin or English.
The rapidly growing e-book market, the advance of digital audio books and digital libraries are helping China's publishers to become less dependent on their rather loose network of foreign branches and agents.
These new technologies reduce their need to build a traditional distribution chain to deliver books around the world and allow them to concentrate on electronic platforms instead.
The China International Publishing Group (CIPG) promotes a multi-lingual database of Chinese books, a photo database and the digital e-book and audio book library singdoo.com.
"Most Chinese exhibitors are carrying out their mission of 'Going Out', and Frankfurt Book Fair provides the best platform to get access to international publishers," said Liu Zhong, CPG's Director of International Cooperation. The group has teamed with China Mobile to develop digital content such as comics, magazines and educational material for mobile internet devices.
CPG, which also publishes art collections, met German art and design publishing house Taschen, Britain's Phaidon and Italian and U.S. publishers, Liu Zhong said.
The trip of nearly 8,000 km (5,000 miles) from Beijing to Frankfurt to make new contacts was worth it, CPG said. Overall, Chinese publishers rented 16 percent more floor space at the trade fair this year than last, the Frankfurt Book Fair said.
Industry experts say cross-border publishing can give businesses and authors advantages in promotion and pricing and help them overcome stagnation in mature markets.
While the publishing industry was flat in traditional large markets such as the United States, Britain and Germany last year, the Chinese market grew 9 percent, data collected by Austrian industry consultant Ruediger Wischenbart showed.
Editing by Janet Lawrence