Writer Bi Feiyu releases his first podcasts

  • Source:China Daily | 2018-01-22

Writer Bi Feiyu released his first podcasts on two online platforms in Beijing on Saturday to great anticipation from fans, amid a trend in which more Chinese are paying for online content, including audiobooks.

"Technology has made listening a chic way of learning," Bi says.

"Knowledge is easily accessed via all kinds of devices. I'd say listening is as fundamental as reading and perhaps far more ancient."

Bi believes listening to recorded audio is an extension of old oral traditions.

He points out audio can be consumed amid busy lives during such times as when commuting, exercising and doing chores-basically any time when the eyes are otherwise engaged.

Bi's programs are largely based on his lectures on literary classics at Nanjing University, where he teaches.

He initially posted them as wildly popular blogs. People's Literature Publishing House compiled them into the book Fiction Reading that was released in February.

The podcasts, which are under 20 minutes long, feature Bi lecturing while celebrities and news anchors read passages quoted from classic texts over music.

Ximalaya FM and Qingting FM are releasing one podcast every weekday. The entire package of 75 clips costs about 100 yuan ($15).

Each platform will also offer two podcasts that are not from the book.

"This kind of content is new and rare," says Zhang Yan, aka Shu Shu, CEO of Beijing Yousuozuowei Culture and Tech Ltd, one of the programs' producers and planners.

Zhang says she was deeply moved by the book.

She believes Bi's unique analyses and online feedback has enabled the creation of the "perfect" podcast series.

"It's exactly as if Bi's classes have extended beyond the university," she says.

"It's a relatively new market. But readers are increasingly interested in traditional culture."

About one in five adult Chinese listened to audiobooks in 2016, according to the 14th national reading-habits report released by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication in April.

They spend an average of 6.81 yuan a year on online audio content, the report says.

Among those surveyed, 42.4 percent favor romance stories; 42 percent prefer history, classics and culture; 33.5 percent enjoy literature; and 20.5 percent listen to traditional pingshu (Chinese storytelling shows).

Bi calls himself a "drunkard seeking happiness in reading".

He believes classics are resourceful, interpretable and free.

"They allow readers to freely indulge as much as possible in the happy moments of reading," the writer says.

"No matter how much you already know, every time you read it brings you something new and delightful, whether it's a grasshopper, a rice stalk or a whole harvest. Every reading session is time travel and dialogue."

Bi is known for his ability to uncover truths hidden in the details of texts.

He has won prestigious literary prizes for his novels, novellas and short stories. He's also the 2017 Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters.

He was born in Xinghua, Jiangsu province, and has been living and writing in the provincial capital, Nanjing, for 30 years.

Indeed, the concept of podcasts is new to the author. He only recently began to use a mobile phone.

Ximalaya FM's vice-president Jiang Feng says cultural content, especially those related to Chinese traditions, has been a big seller since the company began to offer paid-for content in June 2016.

The most popular podcasts during the first year were about skill-and-knowledge development, speechmaking and learning English, he said in a speech in June. This year, customers prefer topics related to the humanities, culture and philosophy.

"Future favorites should be about humanity and our future, the meaning of life and the like," Jiang says.

Ximalaya is China's largest online-audio-content platform. It has 450 million users, 5 million hosts and 5,000 programs with paywalls. Users listen for an average of 128 minutes a day, Jiang says.

Such technology as big data and creative-planning systems are enabling audiences to enjoy smarter services.

Zhang, from the culture-and-tech company, plans to produce more programs by writers, especially those by authors who lecture at universities.

The publisher released a set of six new titles following Bi's book, which may offer more content for podcasts.

They include Su Tong's The Backlight of the Soul, poet Wang Jiaxin's The Masters Who Taught My Soul to Sing and Ye Zhaoyan's The Great Authors.

"I hope these will reach Chinese-language teachers in middle schools, who will be more enlightened in their mission to teach budding literature lovers," Bi says.


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