beijing book fair

Book fair in Beijing, China.

Several years from now, none of China’s millions of students may have to carry bags loaded with heavy books.  Indeed, they may not need to visit libraries or museums, darken the doors of a school, or even be required to talk with teachers or fellow students.


Online e-readers have the potential to liberate students from all of this, offering a world of knowledge at their fingertips.

But how many people are ready for this great change? Simon Allen told China Daily that he is.

Allen, senior vice-president of McGraw-Hill Education, was recently in China for the Beijing International Book Fair, where a hot topic of discussion this year was the rising tide of e-reading and e-books.

This is a new area in which international publishing companies are eager to expand cooperation with their Chinese partners.

McGraw-Hill is prepared, Allen said, to publish and deliver educational materials in a totally different way from the time when he was physically carrying textbooks, visiting one school after another as a salesman in Texas, some 20 years ago.

Allen said he sees China as one of the main areas in the world that will experience an e-book boom, along with the development of e-libraries and e-museums, which can easily be integrated into a single handheld device.

Companies both in China and around the world are spending billions of dollars developing the hardware for e-books, with the industry on the verge of breaching the technical barriers that would make these devices truly affordable and easy to use.

By then, what we understand to be a “book”, will be changed to something with integrated content, consisting of videos, documentary films, virtual tours and televised seminars by globally renowned scholars.

McGraw-Hill Education’s ambition, Allen said, is to make this revolution happen in China by tapping its traditional advantages in the educational and reference book business and also by forging closer links with Chinese publishing houses.

China’s educational book market has experienced rapid growth in recent years, as a result of the government’s growing investment in the field.

“We are encouraged to hear that the Chinese government promises that 4 percent of GDP will be spent on public education by 2012,” said Allen. “Local governments may spend even more on it.”

For McGraw-Hill, focusing on educational books has also been a practical necessity in a time of crisis.

Due to the global financial crisis, more graduates are opting to continue their studies, while others who cannot find jobs are taking training courses to make themselves more attractive to potential employers.

In addition, a thirst for new insight and post-crisis frameworks is on the rise at business schools in developing economies in China, India and the Middle East, accompanied by a change in the way people receive information.

sales growth

“Publication was merely about content 10 to 20 years ago, but now we use technology to provide more services such as testing materials and self-paced learning programs,” said Allen.

“We have changed into a full-service education company.”

According to McGraw-Hill Education, only 30 percent of its revenue in the Chinese market is from sales of books, while 60 to 70 percent is from selling copyrights to Chinese publishers.

According to OpenBook, an industry monitoring service, books worth a total of 6.99 billion yuan ($1.04 billion) were sold in the Chinese market in 2009, up 4.21 percent from the previous year. The growth rate for textbooks was even higher, at 7.3 percent.

As the traditional product of McGraw-Hill Education, textbooks account for 50 percent of its products in the Chinese market. Business management is such a hot topic that more than 60 percent of its products in China are related to it.

The annual growth rate of McGraw-Hill Education’s sales in the Chinese market is more than 10 percent, according to company figures. From 2000 to 2009, it published around 4,000 titles in joint projects with Chinese publishing houses.

But from now on, more books will be published not just in print form, but as “systems of educational thoughts”, Allen said, adding that the promotion of every book will be a team effort by experts in offline and online educational services.

The focus is what technology they have. “How easy the e-books can be used in and out of the class and how easy it can be customized by professors – that’s what we need to show in the marketing,” said Allen.

McGraw-Hill has provided online education projects in China since 1999 when it invested in, a website offering education services for different levels from kindergartners to college students.

As for the reference books, which are a major part of McGraw-Hill’s business, customers can subscribe online and get them renewed weekly. In the past, people had to wait at least five years to purchase a revised edition.

“Every traditional book we sell has a digital edition now,” said Allen. “For the adult self-learning content, most of this is delivered online rather than in forms of traditional books.”

Via China Daily