How to Outsell “The Da Vinci Code” in China

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While many people mull over how to sell to a billion Chinese consumers (or not, as explored in this post), some clever English educators are “Just Doing It”…

They are responsible for the “New Standard English” textbooks that have sold 105 million copies in China (outselling Dan Brown by two to one). The books were selected after China’s Ministry of Education decided, in 2001, to promote English teaching in schools.

The books are published by Macmillan English and FLTRP, the publishing house of Beijing University and the leading publisher of English-language books in China. Chris Paterson, Chairman of Macmillan Education, is quoted in China Daily as saying:

    “This is the first course in modern China to have been written by international experts targeted at Chinese schools…Everything else has been written within China and it is rather old-fashioned.” China Daily adds: “Simmons [the author] said that the success was down to the radical nature of the books, which are designed to make the children laugh. “It has hit a spot,” she said. “They act out funny stories, sing funny songs and play funny games. When I visited, I saw the children singing the songs in the playground after class, without supervision. In a culture that is based on rote-learning, (our technique) is revolutionary. We are not even using such methods of teaching here in Britain.”

There are 135 million children in primary schools in China, and 100 million of them are learning English. But the overall market for English language services is much bigger than that, and the Economist reports that China’s English speakers will outnumber native English speakers within 20 years.

This level of demand has created a market worth some US$60 billion a year, according to TOEFL, much of it spent on teaching materials. There are also an estimated 50,000 private language schools, as well as online facilities provided by traditional providers such as the British Council’s in2english site, and by innovative newcomers such as EnglishPod (sister of ChinesePod, of which we are an affiliate).

The overall message is that well-targeted, innovative services can successfully penetrate China’s mass consumer market. Even in traditionally sensitive areas such as education and publishing.

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