Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

"Steady Updating Is the Kingly Way" the VIP System and Its Impact on the Creation of Online Novels

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

"Steady Updating Is the Kingly Way" the VIP System and Its Impact on the Creation of Online Novels

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Chinese Internet literature has undergone drastic changes since its beginnings in the mid-1990s. Since that time, there has been enormous growth in the number of people who read or write literature online, in the amount of works available on the Internet, and in the number and size of online platforms dealing with literature. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the number of Chinese users reading or writing literature online reached 289 million by June 2014.1

In addition to a quantitative increase in online literature readers, writers, and platforms, there have been qualitative changes as well. One change that deserves particular attention is the emerging relationship between Internet literature and profit. In the mid-1990s, sharing literature online was a new form of leisure activity, mostly undertaken by students on Internet forums run by university institutions. In the late 1990s, it became increasingly obvious that money could be earned by marketing Internet literature in the offline world. Some novels with online origins started to find their way into Chinese bookstores and became bestsellers in the print market. In addition, the successful adaptation of online novels into films showed that this form of literature could cross the threshold to commerce and be turned into a commodity.

The relationship between Internet literature and profit entered a new stage in October 2003, when the literary website Qidian ...2 started to offer select pieces of literature, basically novels, online for a fee. This step marked the beginning of the commodification of Internet literature even within the online world. The new payment system, known as the VIP system (VIP zhidu VIP ..., "VIP" standing for "very important person"), has had a far-reaching impact on the creation of Chinese online novels. It puts pressure on writers to continually upload large amounts of text in order to meet the readersf need for entertainment, to fulfill website requirements for earning money, and to meet the authorsf own financial goals. The incentive for authors to produce larger amounts of online text is driven by the correlation between the amount a reader has to pay and the length of the novels, which in China are usually published in serial form. Longer novels incur greater profits for both the authors and the websites that publish their works. In recent years, this dynamic has led to the online publication of VIP novels, which are mind-boggling in length, some stretching to millions of characters.3

From the time of its emergence, the VIP system has been a subject of controversy and debate within China in both the academic and public realms. Some view the system as an incentive for writers to create high-quality novels. Others believe that when writing is paid per chapter, it holds several lurking dangers,4 and they are suspicious of authors who increase the length of their novels at the cost of their quality: The expansion of a novel is supposed to be more important to the authors than retaining a consistent narrative thread. The fact that readers of VIP novels expect to be provided with new reading material on a regular-ideally daily-basis results in enormous pressure on contracted authors. Scholars and journalists criticize this rush to produce new material as being harmful to the freedom of literary expression in the online world: They suspect writers become "human typewriters"5 who are constantly under the gun to add new chapters to their novels.

The VIP System and the Evolution of Million-Character Novels

As literary websites were evolving at the turn of the twenty-first century, operators began to look for ways to cover their costs and earn a financial profit from the literature hosted on their websites. There were several fruitless attempts to implement paid reading models, with websites such as Duxie Wang ... attempting to charge users to access their content beginning in 2002. …

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