BEIJING, April 29 — In China, novels are no longer read by turning the pages, but on the Internet. This digital book format, known as web novels, has already won over millions of readers in the country and is now poised to take over the West.
It took European readers a while to get into e-books, digital books read by scrolling through pages on a reading device. The Chinese have long been accustomed to reading fiction on their smartphone or computer, and they are particularly fond of web novels, novels specially designed to be read on a screen.
In China, this craze for digital novels dates back to the emergence of the Internet, with the advent of cyberliterature. Web novels are distinguished from their paper counterparts by their great freedom of form. Each author is free to build his story through hundreds, sometimes even thousands of chapters
A novel of 1,118 chapters
And this is exactly what makes webmans special: these works of fiction free themselves from traditional narrative patterns to better meet the demands of their readers. Here, the psychology of the characters takes precedence over the development, even the coherence of the plot. That’s why most web novels belong to genres that are common and popular with young readers, such as romance, fantasy, young adult, and science fiction.
One such web novel is Nightfall (Jiang Ye in its original version) by Mao Ni. This web novel follows the adventures of Ning Que, a young man of extraordinary ability who survived the massacre of his family in the Tang Dynasty. It’s a story that the Chinese author tells through 1,118 chapters. Despite its extreme length, this webman has found his audience and has even been adapted for the small screen.
Many production studios are turning to webmasters to make new TV series, as they have for years with fanfiction and, more recently, webtoons. love in the moonlight and Coffee Prince’s first storeboth available on Netflix, are based on South Korean digital novels.
Breaking into the West
Paradoxically, the success of webmans reconnects with an old tradition, that of serial novels published periodically in newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries. If this format has since fallen into oblivion in Europe, its new digital incarnation is gaining more and more followers in China, but also in Japan and South Korea.
Many platforms – such as Webnovel, Joara and Naver – are investing in this booming market, estimated at around US$63 million (RM274.8 million) in South Korea, according to the Pressman online news. South Korean web giant Naver recently teamed up with Munpia – a big name in web novels – to encourage amateur writers to put pen to paper…digitally. They are about to launch a big competition in the land of K-pop to unearth the web novels that will follow in the footsteps of Nightfall or Nirvana on firewith 1 billion South Korean won up for grabs.
While web novels are consolidating their status in Asia, they are now trying to break into the Western market. The Webnovel platform is seeing growing interest in these digital works of fiction in China, as well as beyond the borders of the Middle Kingdom. According to world times, its catalog had 370,000 foreign web novels as of last December – and it’s safe to assume that number will only increase in the coming months. In any case, Webnovel does everything to encourage this. Last March, the platform launched its first writing competition for North American authors wishing to try their hand at webfiction. At the time, they could win US$20,000 and the chance to have their novel’s cover displayed on billboards in New York’s Times Square. Something to inspire any budding web novelist… — ETX Studio