I had a very good visit this afternoon at the offices of Science Fiction World here in Chengdu. I was hosted by Li Ke Qin, Chief Editor for Foreign Literature. He’s the gentleman who handles the Western fiction acquired in translation, both as an editor and as a translator.
The offices are on the sixth floor of a building on South People Road here in Chengdu. In a city of ten million people, this doesn’t tell you a lot, but my local guide and driver were able to find the place. The offices are quite large, with a staff of at least a dozen editors. Ke Qin explained to me that they edit four magazines there: Science Fiction World, Fantasy World, Newton and Science Fiction World Translations. We had a long discussion of their readership, circulation and marketing processes.
First of all, they don’t mix SF and fantasy in general. With respect to this, Science Fiction World roughly corresponds to Analog, while Fantasy World roughly corresponds to Realms of Fantasy. Newton is a magazine of stories for children, not so much fantastic or SFnal as science-oriented. Those three markets all publish exclusively Chinese fiction for Chinese readers, usually with Chinese cover artists.
Science Fiction World Translations is the sister publication which publishes Western fiction, primarily from the US and the UK, in translation. All of the acquisition and much of the translation is done by Ke Qin. (Among other things, he has translated Ted Chiang’s work.) They also acquire a limited number of novel properties.
Ke Qin regretfully reports that readership for Science Fiction World is down from a paid circulation of over 400,000 to approximately 300,000. They are still the largest genre magazine in China (and, presumably the world), but the field is very tough right now in the Chinese market. He says they have six or seven competitors, the best of which was published out of Fujien and sadly has recently folded. Fantasy World has a comparable circulation. Demand is much lower for foreign-sourced fiction, his speciality, with circulation in the tens of thousands.
Most copies are sold via newsstand, with subscriptions going primarily to readers in remote and rural areas without ready access to newsstand. Ke Qin says his readership is from the teens through the twenties, students with little disposable income who can afford one magazine a month and must choose between the available competitors. This in turn drives what they can emphasize in the acquisition process — for example, adventure or military SF is far more popular than complex, style-driven work. (He then pointed out that this is not the whole truth as Ted Chiang has been very popular, but attributed that to the “core readership.”) Their long-term plan is to try to keep their readership as the demographic ages, and branch out the style, tone and content of the offerings accordingly.
We talked a while about the state of the US markets, both for short fiction and novels. We also talked about my life and career a bit, and I showed Ke Qin my Clarkesworld stories, “The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black” from last year, and my current collaboration with
Ke Qin was kind enough to give me sample copies of Science Fiction World and Science Fiction World Translations. I’ll take them back to the US, and show them to folks when I get the chance. I’ll also be sending him some books from the United States, as those are very hard to get in China.
It’s an interesting market, staffed by dedicated people most of us would readily recognize as fans even without any common language, working with the largest potential readership in the world. I’d love to see American markets with their kind of numbers, and I’d love even more to see some Chinese fiction making the jump across the water, and the language barrier, to our pages.