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Chinese author looks West as Amazon expands East

  
  
  
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Amazon logo. Credit: Wikimedia

A popular Chinese science fiction writer hopes to move his work from the edge to what he calls "the center"—in other words, the United States. Liu Cixin's Three Body Trilogy, which sold over 400,000 copies in China, will soon be translated into English.

"America is still the center of the world’s sci-fi writing, and we are actually trying to work from the edge to the center," Cixin told Publishing Perspectives recently.

As the first full-length, sci-fi work from China to be translated for an international audience, Cixin's trilogy will certainly mark a milestone in literary translation, but it remains to be seen whether it will be successful.

Likewise, the jury is still out on a U.S. venture that wants to move into China: Amazon.

The giant e-tailer first moved into China in 2004 when it purchased joyo.com, a Chinese e-bookstore that had great initial success. Since then, the company, now re-branded as Amazon China, has managed to grab 2.3% of all retail sales in the country.

Amazon still faces stiff competition from Tmall and 360buy not to mention local e-bookstore DangDang, but investors always take notice when Amazon enters a new market. NBC's Motley Fool analysts, for one, give Amazon China good odds for success.

The Seattle-based company is known for making bold, if sometimes ruthless, business moves, one of the most notable of which is also internationally focused: Amazon's cannonball jump into the e-book market that is still rocking the boats of traditional publishers.

E-books tear down borders for both readers and authors. E-books can be easily distributed internationally; after all, there are no shipping costs. Amazon not only created its own e-reader, the Kindle, but also launched a self-publishing program, Kindle Direct (KDP), which allows authors to publish e-books for free. Sales, of course, are split with Amazon but with a 70% royalty, at a decidedly better rate for authors than those offered by traditional publishers. In a controversial practice, Amazon's KDP Select also encourages authors to make their books exclusive on the Kindle for a limited time.

Writers have noticed and have flocked to KDP in droves, with varying degrees of success. For Amazon, however, its e-book sales now outpace those of print books in the U.S. and the U.K., so it's no surprise that the company is expanding the Kindle/KDP project further. It is already available in the several European countries, and just recently, Amazon announced it was taking the Kindle to India, offering more than one million e-books online and giving Indian authors the opportunity to self-publish through KDP.

No word yet when KDP will come to China. No matter, at least one Chinese author has already come to KDP. Several of Cixin's award-winning stories are already on Amazon.com in English—available only for the Kindle.

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