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April 11, 2014

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Home » Metro » Entertainment and Culture

More funds promised for city’s bookshops

THE city government will this year provide additional financial support for bookstores in a bid to help them compete against online retailers and digital media, officials said yesterday.

While the exact amount has yet to be decided, the focus will be on stores located near schools, and within local communities and commercial centers, said Xin Yu, director of the release management division at the Shanghai Press and Publication Administration.

“Lots of people enjoy going to bookstores because of the ambience, though they tend to do their buying online because it’s cheaper,” Xin said.

“But as long as there is demand, we believe there is a good reason for physical bookstores to stay.”

Over the past two years, the administration has allocated 23.5 million yuan (US$3.8 million) to supporting the city’s bookshops, after almost 700 outlets closed down between 2008 and 2011. Similarly, the central government last year exempted all bricks-and-mortar bookstores from paying value added tax until 2017.

According to Xin, the problem is that with the massive change in the way people buy and consume books these days, bookstore owners must become more entrepreneurial and explore new ways to generate revenue.

“The funding is intended only as a way to help bookstores that are in trouble find new ways to survive,” he said.

“The government can’t help them forever.”

Shanghai has about 8,000 physical bookstores and many of them are struggling to survive in a climate of rising rents and labor costs, and a never-ending price war with their online competitors.

Specialist stores

A good example is the independent Lu Ming Bookstore, which opened in 1997 close to Fudan University, but slowly faded under growing economic pressures and eventually went out of business. Thankfully, under a deal with the university, the store known for specializing in academic titles and once a gathering place for scholars reopened last month on Guoquan Road.

“Specialist stores like Lu Ming will be the focus of our support this year because there is still a demand for academic books from students,” Xin said.

For Xu Tao, chief executive of Momi Cafe Bookstore, the key to the survival is diversity.

“Bookshops have to change as people’s reading habits and lifestyles change,” he said.

“What we can provide is a place for people to meet authors, hang out with friends or just enjoy a drink in a relaxing environment,” Xu said.

He said book sales now account for just 30 percent of the store’s revenue, with the rest coming from the cafe and its own-brand range of postcards.

When Shanghai Daily visited the Momi outlet in Xintiandi, it was evident more people were there for the coffee and postcards, than for the books.

“I like it here because it’s quite relaxing and I like to send postcards to my friends,” local woman Wang Juewei said.

With its evolving format, the future for Momi looks good, and Xu said he hopes to double the number of outlets in Shanghai to 10 over the next three years.

Cultural attractions

As for the funding, Xin said the government will also seek out stores that can also be cultural attractions for the city.

But being attractive doesn’t necessarily guarantee success.

The Zhong Shu Ge Bookstore in Songjiang District’s Thames Town, for instance, has welcomed more than 1 million visitors since opening less than a year ago, but it has yet to break even.

Built at a cost of 400,000 yuan (US$64,350) the store is well known for its chic interior, but less so for its sales figures.

“I’m delighted to see that so many people appreciate the store, but we are yet to make a profit,” owner Jin Hao said.


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