The story appears on

Page A5

March 11, 2016

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

In the retail realm, the bookworm turns

BOOKSTORES are on the comeback trail after years of struggling against rising rents, competition from online book retailers and changing reader habits.

Since 2010, many bricks-and-mortar bookshops have been forced to close or move to cheaper, more remote locations. However, last year alone, 10 new bookstores opened in Shanghai, many in prime downtown areas.

Adding to the trend, online book giant Dangdang has announced plans to open 1,000 offline bookstores in the next three years.

“Bookstores are coming back, but in a different form,” said Sun Ganlu, vice chairman of the Shanghai Writers’ Association and main curator of the Sinan reading club and book market. “After a very difficult period, bookstores have transformed themselves to stay in tune with the times.”

It’s not just in China where the swing back to traditional bookshops is evident. Amazon opened its first offline bookshop last November in Seattle and will open another in San Diego in the next few months. The company said it eventually plans to open 400 outlets of Amazon Books.

The comeback is slow but steady. In 2014, offline bookshop sales edged up 3.2 percent from a year earlier. In big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, the increase was as much as 8 percent, according to comments from Wei Yushan, president of the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, at a recent bookstore seminar.

So what’s causing the shift?

“Of course, I like the big discounts for books online,” said avid reader Viktor Xu, 31. “But after awhile, I realized I also missed the fun of rummaging through piles of books in a shop and finding interesting things to read. You can’t really do that effectively online.”

Offline store revival

Indeed, the online book realm is crammed with promotions for best sellers and celebrity endorsements.

“You are so easily diverted by all that stuff that it’s easy to lose the simple pleasure of spotting an intriguing cover on the shelves, flipping through the pages and realizing it is a book you want to take home and read,” Xu said.

Xu said he used to buy all his books online. Nowadays, his purchases are split pretty evenly with offline bookshops, particularly when he is seeking classic literature or academic works.

At the recent bookstore seminar, government officials indicated support for the new trend, promising policies that would help bookshops thrive again. Shanghai was among the first cities to take a pro-active role, introducing subsidies and tax breaks for bookstores in 2012.

Some universities and district or neighborhood committees also provide free or reduced rent premises for independent bookstores. It is a great help. Bookshop owners have long listed skyrocketing rents as the major deterrent to business.

Bookshops are even appearing in big department stores and malls. Several prominent booksellers have been invited to open branches in shopping malls, lured by big rent discounts. It’s all part of efforts to retain consumers longer in malls as competition and changing buying habits erode sales.

“We see the upswing, particularly in bookshops that specialize in certain fields or offer something unique or decorate their interiors artistically,” said Xin Yu from the Shanghai Press and Publication Bureau. “Many renowned bookshop chains are opening branches in Shanghai.”

When first beset by the popularity of online books, many offline shops tried to keep customers by including cafés in their premises. Today, almost every bookshop has large, comfortable seating areas where customers may order beverages and read.

Open, Closed, Open, a bookshop wedged into a tiny space downtown, mainly sells poetry books. It took its name from his own experience. The shop was forced out of business a few years ago, then reopened last year. Like many small independent bookshops, the owners don’t expect to make huge profits from selling books, but a small profit or just breaking even will suffice in realizing their personal dream.

Retailer of ‘cultural space’

Mephisto, named after the devil in “Faust,” derives its revenue mainly from renting out its extra room on sites like Airbnb. The idea of sleeping in a bookstore attracts many visitors.

Other shops find uniqueness in specialized books. The Lu Ming Bookstore near Fudan University, for example, is a haven for those seeking classic literature and textbooks.

In general, sales of books account for less than half of the revenue now in offline shops. Food, drinks, art crafts, stationery and cultural events generally make up the rest. In many stores, books occupy only a small percentage of the space, while seating and other commercial products fill the remainder.

“It’s the digital era now, so you can’t expect bookstores to be the same as they were in the past,” said Xu Jun, 35, a financial analyst who is thinking about opening a bookstore in downtown Shanghai. “When we were young, these shops were all bookshelves and you could lose yourself browsing for an entire day.”

Xu said he has been closely studying the success of bookshops that have survived.

“They don’t primarily sell you books anymore,” he said. “Instead, they sell you cultural ambience, an intellectual atmosphere, a reading environment that you can’t get from purchasing books online. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Many bookshops do indeed promote themselves as “cultural space.” They offer platforms for cultural exchanges that especially appeal to young white-collar workers searching for some peace and solitude away from their hectic schedules and family obligations.

Bookshops have also capitalized on the growing popularity of reading clubs in Shanghai, offering an ideal venue for bookworms to get together.

“The cultural events in bookshops are really attractive for me and my friends,” Viktor Xu said. “It’s an occasion for like-minded people to meet and get together.”

Zhongshuge Bookstore, considered one of the premier stops in Shanghai for book lovers, has opened a new branch in the Minhang District. Here, décor is king, with black shelves lining the walls and revolving shelves in the middle aisles, all bathed by soft, white light.

Jin Hao, president of the Shanghai Zhongshu Industrial Co, principal investor in the book chain, said the purpose of the bookstores is to create “a holy land” for intellectuals and to empower people with knowledge.

Other bookshops in the district are continuing the struggle to stay alive. The Xichao Bookstore on the campus of Jiao Tong University in Jiangchuan Town, is run by three former graduates who took over the shop because they believe people like to browse bookshelves and handle books.

“The financial struggle is always there, but as long as we are alive, the bookstore stays alive,” said Zhao Yijia, one of the graduates. “Living is hope.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend