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China book market: As e-books grow, they get pirated, too

Founder Apabi, which has more than half of China's $44 million e-book market, is trying to change how Chinese read. But pirated online books selling for as little as $.03 a title are already challenging them.

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Not far from Google's China headquarters on the edge of the Tsinghua University campus are the offices of Founder Apabi. Founded in 2001, Apabi designed the fonts for the first Chinese personal computer operating systems. It now has more than 50 percent of China's 300 million yuan ($44 million) market for legitimate, licensed e-books.

Most of Apabi's e-book sales are to the library market, where it controls 85 percent of the digital "stacks" at China's universities. Just before Christmas, Apabi released the Wefound handheld e-book reader, gunning for the new middle class that has money to spend and a thirst for information and entertainment.

Scarlet He, Apabi's assistant managing director, says the company, part-owned by Peking University, wants to help change reading habits in China, where commuters don't yet read like riders of the New York subways with their noses buried in their Amazon Kindles.

The Wefound (Wenfang in Chinese), is expensive at 3,800 yuan ($556). But it comes with three years of access to any of the 500,000 licensed titles in Apabi's proprietary content management system, including some from Penguin.

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