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Chinese are reading more online – regardless of the coronavirus pandemic

Chinese users consumed 7.2 billion reads using online platforms during February, amounting to 330 million hours of reading.

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Gaming is not the only leisure activity getting a boost from all the people stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

More Chinese are now doing their reading online, with 70% of users spending more time on reading this past Lunar New Year holiday, a new report shows.

Chinese digital reading platforms signed up 100 million new users in February after the China Audio-video and Digital Publishing Association (CADPA) called on industry players to offer some of their digital resources for free, according to an industry whitepaper published by CADPA on Thursday.

Digital reading includes the consumption of e-books incorporating text and pictures, as well as audiobooks, on electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and via smart speakers.

Chinese users consumed 7.2 billion reads using online platforms during February – when the outbreak struck the country the hardest – amounting to 330 million hours of reading, according to the CADPA report. A daily average of 133 million mobile devices logged on to reading apps during this Lunar New Year holiday, compared to 125 million during the same period last year.

CADPA’s poll of 91,647 online readers showed that up to 44% of the respondents read one to three books during the pandemic, while up to one third read four to six books.

Chinese tech giants including Tencent and Baidu have been quick to compete in the growing sector with online literature platforms and reading devices.

Tencent (HKG: 0700) owns China Literature, the country’s biggest online publisher, while last month Baidu invested 700 million yuan in Beijing-based iReader Technology, an e-reading device maker that also operates a reading app.

Chinese people’s interest in online reading was already on the rise before the pandemic. In 2019 the digital reading market grew 13.5% year on year to 29 billion yuan (USD 4.1 billion), with 470 million users. However, that was a slowdown in the 21.3% year on year growth seen in 2018, when the market was taking off.

China Literature went public in Hong Kong in 2017, one of the fastest growing periods for the industry. A report last year by iResearch said growth in e-books would slow gradually after 2018 as the market matures and quality content entered a new stage.

Last year Chinese digital readers read an average of 14.6 books via screens or smart speakers compared to 8.8 books in print, according to the CADPA survey. Smartphones were the most popular device among users, with 70% of respondents spending over an hour a day reading on them, followed by e-book devices.

Those born between 1990 and 2000 made up the biggest cohort, accounting for 56% of e-book readers and 59% of content creators.

The CADPA envisaged that the application of 5G and artificial intelligence technology will bring new experiences to readers and improve efficiency in content creation, including content review and translation.

This story was originally published in the South China Morning Post.