When Alice Munro was announced as the Nobel laureate of this year on October 10, Chinese readers started to take note of the Canadian novelist. However, the unexpected win left publishers scrambling.
The only one of Munro's books that has been translated into Chinese, Runaway, came out in 2009. Four years after publication, finding a copy in bookstores has proven difficult in the week since the Nobel Prize for literature was announced.
Thinkingdom Media Group Ltd received nearly 200,000 orders in two hours for its Chinese version of Runaway. The resale page on amazon.cn witnessed a record of 1,000 orders in one hour. On secondhand online bookstore kongfz.com, an old edition of Runaway, originally priced at 28 yuan ($4.59), sold for 120 yuan, according to a Changjiang Daily report.
As the orders from bookstores flood in, Runaway is being printed again in an urgent run of 400,000 copies which should arrive in bookstores within the next two days, according to Li Yao, chief editor for foreign literature at Thinkingdom.
Publishing foot race
Runaway is not the only book of Munro held by Beijing-based Thinkingdom. The company had already planned to publish a translation of Dear Life - the last by Munro, 82, before she retired - in October or November. But after the prize announcement, Thinkingdom adjusted their original plans, postponing the publishing date of Dear Life until after the reprint of Runaway, toward the end of this year or early next year. Li said this was done partially to avoid saturating the market and partially because of delays in translation.
Another publishing house, Yilin Press, is planning to put out several of Munro's books starting later this month, including her first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968).
Head of the foreign literature department of Yilin Press Tian Zhi told the Global Times that their original plan had to be entirely rethought post-Nobel. They accelerated publishing and gathered seven books to put out as a series.
Tian denied rumors that Yilin Press is fighting for the rights to Munro's books with Jiangsu People's Publishing Ltd, and said that both companies belong to Phoenix Publishing & Media Inc, which is the copyright owner.
"We undertake the publishing of these books for our consistent advantages in foreign literature," Tian said.
Yilin Press's edition of Munro's 1994 book Open Secrets is now being pre-sold on most online booksellers, including dangdang.com and jd.com.
Zhu Yuxuan, a publishing insider, told the Changjiang Daily that books by overseas Nobel laureates usually maintain their popularity for only one or two months, which pushes the publishers to get the books on the shelves as fast as possible.
Li at Thinkingdom said that readers usually sustain an interest in these books for a few months, from the announcement of the prize until Spring Festival. If there is no news or new books from the author after that, the public easily loses interest.
Some Nobel-winning authors do gain substantial, sustained sales over the long-term. For example, My Name is Red by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel laureate, has sold several hundred thousand copies, according to Li.
Some classic Nobel prize winners' books have a lasting readership, such as The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1954 Nobel prize in literature winner), according to Tian.