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China to Embrace Penguin's Classics

It has taken more than 70 years, but Penguin has finally arrived in China. The British publisher announced yesterday in Beijing that classics such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, Crime and Punishment and Moby Dick would be translated into Chinese and sold under its logo in the world's fastest growing book market.

The first 10 novels will go on sale in November under a licensing deal with a local partner that could eventually see the UK firm marketing Chinese literature and the works of Marx and Engels.

They are unlikely to hit the bestseller lists in a country where, with the exception of Harry Potter, the most popular publications are usually management guides, self-help books and biographies of the rich and famous.

But the British firm is betting that the titles, which also include Dante's Inferno, Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame and Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, will have a long shelf life and beat off competition through the quality of their translations, expert introductions and copious footnotes.

Works by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Melville are well known in China, though they are less popular than domestic classics such as The Dream of Red Mansion, which is enjoying a revival 200 years after it was written by Cao Xueqin.

With the economy surging, all publications benefit from a market that is growing by more than US$300 million a year. Industry sources say 400 new titles are launched every day, though only 6 percent are translations.

At the opening of the Beijing International Book Fair, Yu Yongzhan, deputy head of the government's press and publications administration, said the country's 573 publishing houses produced 6.4 billion books, including 128,578 new titles, in 2005. With the addition of newspapers and magazines, he estimated the value of the publishing market in 2003 at 193.7 billion yuan (US$24.2 billion).

Penguin, which was founded in 1935, has previously sold the rights to English-language titles, but this is its first venture into the market under its own logo.

It is a cautious first step. Under an agreement with Chongqing Publishing Group, the print run for the first 10 titles will be just 10,000 copies. At 20 yuan (US$2.5) each, the revenue will hardly make an impact on the global balance sheet, but Penguin's chairman, John Makinson, said the company was looking at China as a long-term market. "We want to establish the Penguin brand in the Chinese market."

(China Daily August 31, 2006)

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