Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Walter Isaacson’s new Elon Musk biography is already taking off in China

A Citic Press book stand advertises for the release of the Chinese version of Walter Isaacson’s new Elon Musk biography.

CNBC | Evelyn Cheng

BEIJING — Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Elon Musk hit the Chinese market Tuesday, several hours ahead of the U.S. release due to a time difference that puts Beijing 12 hours ahead of New York.

A day earlier, publisher Citic Press Group raised the book’s selling price to 79 Chinese yuan ($10.84), up from 59 yuan previously, according to Chris Sun, lead translator of Isaacson’s book into Chinese.

Citing conversations with the publisher, Sun said a rare, urgent additional printing was done during the pre-sale period and that the work was Citic Press’ “highest-level confidential project” of the year. That’s according to a CNBC translation of the Chinese comments.

Citic did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment. The Shenzhen-listed company reported revenue from operations of 872.65 million yuan for the first half of the year, up 2.9% from a year ago.

Sun said Citic was unable to provide sales figures of the new biography as of Tuesday.

On the online retailer JD.com’s app Tuesday, versions of the new Elon Musk biography in Chinese held the top three spots in the category of most popular finance and economics biographies.

In fourth place was Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs in Chinese.

About a decade ago, copies of the Jobs’ biography could be found at numerous street-side stands in China. They were almost always knockoffs, but the distinctive black-and-white cover stood out.

Sun pointed out that much has changed between the U.S. and China since then, as well as ordinary Chinese people’s awareness of such tech entrepreneurs.

When Jobs died in 2011, he was better known among China’s elites, while ordinary people were still learning about Apple’s products, Sun said.

Today, “ordinary people [in China] have a very high opinion of Musk,” Sun said, noting some people are proud to be Tesla owners. Ashlee Vance’s earlier biography of Musk has been popular in China as well.

Read excerpts from Isaacson’s new Musk biography here:

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