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The rarified atmosphere of an online bookshop

By Jiang Yijing | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-08 15:14
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Whenever somebody is asked about the earliest online secondhand book-selling platform in China, if they can come up with an answer, chances are that it will be Kongfuzi Jiushu Wang (Confucius Old Book website). The site was set up in 2002, eight years after the internet arrived in China.

Though the website is well-known for selling secondhand books, its founder, Sun Yutian, 43, born in Shanxi province, prefers to call the site's wares "old books".

"Secondhand book is only a category of books we sell, besides which we also sell books published during the period of the Republic of China period (1912-1949), as well as non-bestsellers," Sun says.

If you scan the website you will soon see that plenty of books it sells are ancient ones, including the classics of traditional Chinese culture, whose admirers are as almost as rare as the books they love.

"Most books we read are best-sellers, as is the case with the books regular bookstores sell," Sun says. "The market for niche readers is small.

"What I did was build a platform to let more book lovers find all the books they want, no matter whether the books are new or ancient, bestsellers or non-bestsellers."

Ultimately the aim is to provide customers with books they cannot buy elsewhere, he says.

The website is run on the model of customer to customer, or C2C. People run their online shop at a low price, paying 100 yuan ($15) to 600 yuan annually or pay 4 percent of their income with the platform.

More than 70,000 stores sell in excess of 100 million books on Kongfuzi says, and more than 10 million people have bought books from the platform. By the end of October Kongfuzi had had turnover of nearly 800 million yuan, he says.

Brand-new best-sellers on Kongfuzi are always cheaper than the same kind from other online book retailers such as JD or Dangdang. However, sets of old books published last century are always expensive.

For example, a secondhand Four Great Classical Novels published in 1970s costs 2,000 yuan, 30 times its original price.

"It's common for publishers to produce hundreds of thousands of best-sellers, making the cost of each low," Sun says. "But because of the low productivity and people's poor awareness of collecting books, it's hard to keep a set of books from last century for decades, which means the price is high."

On Kongfuzi there are many books that could be regarded as collectors' items, he says.

On October 30, the day when the well-known Chinese Wuxia author Jin Yong died, Kongfuzi sold more than 10,000 sets of books. The most expensive was Jin's collection of works published by Shanghai Joint Publishing Press in 1999, selling for 99,999 yuan.

Besides books, many transcripts, letters, works of calligraphy and paintings are sold on Kongfuzi.

"These artifacts are closely related to ancient books and traditional Chinese culture," Sun says.

I hope the circulation of these items can help spread our culture, as well as give more people the chance to appreciate their value."

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