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August 15, 2009

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Read all about it: Shanghai Book Fair offers a feast of delights

THE Shanghai Exhibition Center on Yan'an Road is the place to be this weekend if you love reading, with thousands of books on offer at bargain prices -- from Shakespeare to the latest movie tie-in, writes David Maguire.

Nothing will stand in the way this weekend of the Chinese passion for books and reading as the city's annual mecca for the published word, the Shanghai Book Fair, moves into full swing.

The Shanghai Exhibition Center on Yan'an Road has been taken over by 470 publishers and retailers with tens of thousands of customers expected over the two days to the massive one-stop "bookshop" to browse, buy and enjoy discounts of up to 20 percent.

About 300 cultural events, including opera performances, have been scheduled by organizers to enhance customers' book fair visits plus there are engaging public displays, interactive events, book launches and the occasional press conferences.

Every arm of the extensive exhibition center is packed with rows of tables and wall units stacked with every kind of Chinese book imaginable.

The English-language reader is not neglected with a special section set up by city book traders and publishers selling foreign titles. However, expatriates need to look elsewhere if they want to buy anything resembling a new title.

"The book fair is for the Chinese people and they are interested in Harry Potter and the likes of Jane Austen as well as very popular old titles such as William Shakespeare's works," says Jessica Lang of China National Publications whose retail outlets include Shanghai Book City on Fuzhou Road.

"Most of the latest English books are still on the 7th floor in our shop but at the fair the Stephanie Meyer vampire series is very popular although the reissued Michael Jackson biography is not selling well," she says.

Jimmy Yang, manager of the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore's section at the fair, says his mainly Chinese customers want cheaper books so the tables and shelves are piled high with recent movie-related titles such as "The Reader" and "He's Just Not That Into You," plus stacks of US and European crime and general fiction from Europe and the United States.

"One of the most popular books with Chinese readers at present is 'Marley and Me' because it was a popular movie and 'Twilight' is very strong," he says. "Chinese readers who are just beginning to learn English will choose classics like Shakespeare and Jane Austin's 'Pride and Prejudice'."

He offers a "choose 3 pay for 2" discount.

Imported English-language academic books are available at the China Publishing Group Corporation's outlet with 300 titles on display on topics such as international finance, psychology, organizational behavior and business management.

"Most of our books are reference, legal and student texts for universities, school libraries and colleges," says representative Jimbo Jiang.

The company serves the needs of Shanghai Jiao Tong and Fudan universities, MBA and EMBA schools and international firms such as Microsoft as well as international schools.

"Our purpose being here is to promote academic publishers in China and academic books in Shanghai so people are aware that there are companies publishing things other than picture books and novels," Jiang says. "We know that our sales here will be very small but we want to promote the concept that to find a foreign textbook is not difficult in Shanghai and there are channels where you can buy them."

The company is based on Wuding Road but stock is also sold at Shanghai Book Trader on Fuzhou Road.

Most titles on display have a price tag of around 300 yuan (US$44) and there's a 10-percent discount.

But there's plenty of local product on offer, almost the entire exhibition center is devoted to it, and Li Yuan, from the China Publishing Group Corp, has a recommendation.

"If you want to find new books, you should try Chinese books and there's a lot on sale here," he says.

His company represents more than 10 of the largest publishers across a range of popular styles with leading titles. He expects to sell about 60,000 yuan worth of books a day from 50,000 in stock at the book fair.

He says Thursday's opening was quiet but the weekend would be busier. He has 30 staff to cope with sales and is giving 20 percent discount on all items.


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