“Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile never take the lead – but aim to do something big.” -Deng Xiaoping
When Deng Xiaoping passed away in 1997, China was a quiet player in the world of scientific and scholarly publishing. Yet today, with the close of the first decade of the 21st century, no segment of academic publishing remains untouched by Chinese research. China now produces more journal papers and PhDs than any other country except the US. In the past two years alone, news reports have been peppered with China achieving a “world’s biggest” designation across a number of areas, including energy consumption and investment, auto production and sales, internet and mobile phone users, and total export volume. The country recently pushed ahead of Japan to become the second-largest economy in the world and, interestingly for publishers, is now the second largest e-reader market after the US. China’s economic growth is clearly on a steep upward trajectory, with progress in science following close behind.
Much of China’s growth spurt in research is the result of aggressive government policies, which had achieved momentum by the mid 2000s; its on-going program to boost science and technology is typified by a number of aspects:
Accelerated research spending: While Chinas current research investment as a share of GDP is low compared to other nations, the governments science and technology budget has seen increases of 30%, and now stands at US$26 billion. This doesnt include total R&D spending for the nation as a whole, at over US$87 billion in 2009. One can imagine what leaps in spending will occur as expenditures keep pace with the rapidly growing economy.
Energy and environmental issues: The government is keenly aware of the destabilizing effect 1.3 billion consumers could create if solutions for energy and pollution are not found. Green issues have been a major feature running through Chinas five-year plans since the early 2000s, and remain a major recipient of funding.
Recruitment of overseas Chinese: There are a number of programs to lure Chinese academics back from their tenure-track appointments abroad. Different quarters have different opinions regarding the effectiveness of these programs, but over the long term China will likely benefit from an increasingly internationalized researcher pool.
Going Out policy: In addition to drawing talent in, China is keen to boost its cultural and political influence throughout the world. In the sciences, this comprises financial incentives at the institutional level for publication in journals that have Impact Factors, as well as translation stipends for English-language books published by international publishers.
Such an ambitious program is not without its problems, for example, in terms of publishing quality versus quantity. In addition, research output is weighted toward physical sciences and engineering, which comprise 60% to 70% of the total, while output in the biological sciences is lower than is typical for other countries, and social sciences comprise but a sliver.
Other cultural and societal issues are also at play. For example, it is well known that China suffers from a missing generation of scientists owing to the Cultural Revolution. This has resulted in an atypical structure, where universities and institutes are bottom-heavy with junior mid-level researchers, while retirement-age scientists hang on to their positions, and there is only a thin circle of mid- to late-career scientists in the prime years of research productivity and influence.
In addition, unlike in US or European academic circles, where movement into administrative academic positions is often a lifestyle or personality choice, in China it tends to be a common career goal.
However, the above problems are widely acknowledged and actively discussed within China, even at the top levels of government. Most journal editors increasingly notice that the share of accepted papers from China is increasing over time and, although there are still those who deride the quality of research coming out of China, there is undoubtedly a quickly growing core of excellent, top-class research, which every forward-looking journal needs to leverage for long-term growth.
Building Reach in China
Wiley-Blackwell has taken a very hands-on approach in China, where the company has been actively building relationships since the 1970s. Wiley has an on-the-ground presence in Beijing and Shanghai, as well as dozens of publishing relationships with Chinese societies, publishing houses, companies, and the major research institutes, not to mention innumerable author relationships across our book and journal portfolio. Continuing to build our reach into China while attracting top-quality authors continues to be a major focus for us as a publisher, just as it is for journal editors.
There are various ways to get a foothold in China in terms of journal subscriptions. Given current conditions in the institutional market, it is increasingly difficult to grow subscriptions for individual titles. The most efficient way is to join the collections offered by the publisher. Librarians in China, similar to their counterparts worldwide, are also basing procurement decisions on usage and cost-per-download, so driving usage to your journal is critical to growing and retaining subscription revenue in China. For this, often a more targeted, local-language approach is used.
For example, some Wiley-Blackwell health science journals make use of selected-article journal editions in Chinese, which are then distributed to clinicians by the pharmaceutical companies. This is an optimal way to build the journal brand while growing a revenue stream.
Another local-language approach we have found successful in boosting visibility and engagement in China is MaterialsViewsChina.com, a Chinese language spin-off of MaterialsViews.com, which features softer, blog-style content in the Chinese language, highlighting some of most exciting research across a portfolio of journals and contextualizing its significance. In addition to driving the visibility of the journals in China, it also boosts usage.
Some journals have considered abstract translation, which can work well in certain subject areas, particularly clinical medicine, social sciences, and humanities. However, since Chinese researchers in the natural sciences tend to use English as their default research language, abstract translation can be less effective in certain subject areas, especially given its higher cost.
The first order of business for a journal looking to build their presence in China or attract top-quality papers from the country is to ensure a China-based academic or two is on the editorial board. This can be a challenge, as the top people tend to be less available to participate substantively for the reasons mentioned above. The problem is rampant among Chinese journals, where the associate editors and editors-in-chief are often honorary titles, with much of the work and strategic development, if any, done by more junior academics. Journals may therefore need to manage expectations when recruiting Chinese board members.
In March 2011, Wiley-Blackwell will launch the Chinese Scholars Network, a resource to provide Chinese researchers with advice and coaching for successfully publishing in leading social science journals. The network will provide publishing guidance and support for Chinese scholars at all points in their careers, actively encouraging strong submissions from China to Wiley-Blackwell journals within key subject areas. Features of the site will include best practice guidance for preparing and submitting manuscripts, an Ask the Expert scheme with responses to frequently asked questions and a discussion forum for authors to share experience and advice.
There are also numerous other ways to reach out to researchers through local-language blogging, micro-blogging, or other forms of outreach which can give an up-and-coming journal an edge among Chinese academics. Of course, the rules of play in China are a bit different, especially when it comes to the internet, so some understanding of how things work is necessary before jumping in. Attracting top Chinese content and gaining higher penetration into the Chinese market is not without its unique challenges, but should pay off for journal brands looking to retain their top position or increase their global standing in the long term.
Wishing you a Happy Lunar New Year, and a prosperous Year of the Rabbit!