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Paperback microblogger

By Jiang Yuxia (Global Times)

08:56, July 09, 2013

Photo: Courtesy of Li Pengtao

"I can't believe it. A softcover book, with just one copy in circulation, has been published containing my Sina Weibo content. This is the smallest number I have ever had for my books," joked well-known basketball commentator and author, Su Qun, in a recent post on microblogging service Sina Weibo.

The 200-page book Su referred to was published using Weiyin, a software that allows Sina or Tencent Weibo users to compile and print their account's content as a book.

The book by Su, 45, consists of about 8,000 posts and photos from his Weibo account, with the total number of characters numbering about 800,000 - roughly the same length as each of his four published books about basketball.

"Digital media has its advantages. We can write down our entries anytime and anywhere, but it doesn't give us the convenience of leafing through pages like you would with a newspaper or book," he said.

Though such books often serve a purpose as keepsakes for microbloggers keen to relive fond social media memories, providers of such services hope they will also reignite romance among tech-savvy youths for the printed word.

Two companies leading this charge are Guangzhou-based startup Weiyin and its Beijing-based competitor Tushu, which was set up in 2010. Both software makers allow users to choose content from social media networks, such as Weibo and mobile text and voice messaging service WeChat, and create a book complete with text, photos and a timeline.

Users can personalize their books through different layouts and templates, before sharing them online as e-books or ordering their publication in soft or hardcover format.

Overseas equivalents of such software include PastBook and Postagram, the latter which converts photos from social media into postcards.

Publication of social media memoirs first became popular in late 2011, with most customers ordering books as keepsakes to share among family, friends or even clients in business circles, said Feng Jina, manager of Tushu's online platform. Tushu, which also boasts its own app, charges 0.2 yuan ($0.05) per social media entry.

Since its launch in August last year, Weiyin has accumulated 100,000 users and produced around 5,000 soft and hardcover books, plus a further 250,000 e-books. The price for a book ranges from 30 to more than 500 yuan per copy, depending on its length and cover.

The majority of customers are young people and parents eager to preserve memories of their children, said Li Pengtao, Weiyin's founder.

"A personalized book is different from a novel or other books in terms of passing on knowledge, but it's unique as a gift that allows owners to rediscover their memories," said Li.

Despite its steadily growing popularity, Su noted the service is unlikely to stall digital media's inevitable conquest over traditional publishing.

"Paper books won't die in the immediate future, but their place is being taken by new media. Customized publication is one way to keep paper books alive," said Su.

One problem some users are concerned about is the issue of copyright regarding content shared on social media. Weiyin allows its customers to print content from any of their followers, with no limitations on the number of books by the company. But if books are sold, content from original Weibo users could be pirated.

Li acknowledges the possibility of such problems, but notes the majority of customers only order one copy of their book to be published.

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