Book fair unveils "age of audio books"

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BEIJING, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- In the "age of audio books," artificial intelligence (AI) is taking the lead, with the domestic market for audio books estimated to increase to 4.43 billion yuan (680.5 million U.S. dollars), according to the Beijing Book Fair, which opened Thursday.

Ximalaya FM, a domestic platform for sharing audio content, said its user base, of nearly 450 million activated accounts, had an average listening time of 128 minutes per person.

"New technology such as big data, AI and virtual reality (VR) empower services to facilitate the transformation of the reading mode and industrial innovation in the new reading age," said Wang Min, chairman of the board of Anhui Publishing Group. "Integrating AI with the digital publishing industry will promote content display and improve reading experiences."

China's book retail sales totaled 80.3 billion yuan in 2017, up 14.55 percent year on year, according to a report issued at the book fair.

Sales through online channels grew by 25.82 percent year on year, and brick-and-mortar book shops also saw sales increase by 2.33 percent due to China's efforts to encourage people to read, the report said.

"Children's books took a share of 24.64 percent of book sales nationwide, making it the category with the biggest contribution to the total sales growth," it said.

A special section of the book fair focused on political books since the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress and literature on the 19th CPC National Congress, attracting a wide audience.

"The People's Publishing House has published 120 million books on such documents and 18 works on the study of the 19th CPC National Congress," said Huang Shuyuan, head of the publishing house.

According to Chen Lijun, vice president of China's major online book retailer Dangdang, 410 million children's books were sold in 2017 on the company's website, surging 60 percent year on year.

One-third of the children's books sold on the website were created by domestic authors, according to Chen, who predicts sales will remain high in 2018.

Huang Bugao, head of Hunan Education Publishing House, said that increasing sales of children's books showed Chinese parents' attention to education and improving reading habits.

"The Chinese publication industry should produce prints with high quality, telling Chinese stories and expounding Chinese wisdom," said Liu Binjie, head of the education, science, culture and health committee of the National People's Congress.

"To build a strong publication industry, China should allow experts in culture and science and technology, as well as top-notch technical talent, to work in the industry," Liu said.

Liu suggested that the Chinese publication industry should carry out more cooperation with transnational publishing companies.

The Beijing Book Fair was first held in 1987 and is hosted by the Publishers Association of China and the Books and Periodicals Distribution Association of China.

This year's book fair attracted 736 exhibitors and will host more than 180 cultural events.

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