Bookstores fight back with novel business ideas

Updated: 2012-03-14 08:06

By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Cities provide funding to ensure retailers remain in local communities

Private brick-and-mortar bookstores are exploring feasible business innovations in order to survive harsh competition from their online counterparts.

Some famous bookstores, deemed as cultural landmarks in their cities, are disappearing because online bookshops have carved up their readership in recent years.

O2SUN, one of the largest bookstore chains on the mainland, with 31 outlets, closed in October last year.

Some book retailers have said they needed to change the function of bookstores, from places that sell books to places that are cultural experiences.

The success of online bookstores has triggered the collapse of a wave of conventional retailers in recent years.

"We will create the bookstore as a cultural shopping mall, available around the clock," said Dong Chenxu, assistant general manager of the Fuzhou Road branch of Shanghai Popular Bookmall. The store, on the downtown "cultural street", will reopen on Thursday.

Scholars and authors will be invited to the store in the evening to give cultural lectures to readers, according to Dong. And they will organize meetings of their book club's members to exchange impressions after reading certain popular books.

Dong said they came up with the idea for the all-night bookstore because they wanted to satisfy readers who needed books at night but found that every bookstore on the "cultural street" was closed after 9 pm.

"We don't expect sales volume during the night to match daytime levels," he said. "We just want to build a warm midnight reading environment for those who love reading."

A new job, book selector, has been created in the store to help readers design their own individual reading programs.

Dong said they will assess the reading habits of different people in their readers' club. They will establish a system whereby they can see which category a new customer falls into, according to his or her reading preferences, and then recommend the most suitable books.

"All the ideas are meant to reconstruct an intimate relationship with readers rather than the traditional buyer-seller relationship and wake up more people to enjoy the fun of reading," he said.

A small bookstore-library named 2666 in an old Shanghai-style community in Jing'an district is famous among young people for its comfortable environment and collection of books.

"The books here might not be bestsellers, but they are unique," said Shi Jianfeng, who opened the bookshop with several friends last year.

An Internet user who uses the name "Caiyi" said the bookshop is one of her top options whenever she travels to Shanghai.

"I can buy some postcards with pictures of the city in the old days and write to my friends," she wrote on her blog. "I have also been surprised to find some new perfume on the bookshelves."

Children's bookstores are planning distinctive courses and interactive games for their young clients.

"We've just held a class on Sunday to teach kids how to bake egg puddings. They were happy with the delicious fruits of their labor," said Huang Zhenjie, owner of Family Land, a children's bookstore in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.

She said the bookstore organizes two storytelling sessions every weekend and holds regular theme salons, such as handwork and photography, for kids of different age groups, accompanied by their parents.

"A bookstore that fails to be unique cannot even afford to stay in a business district," said Huang. The store opened in June last year.

The country is mulling policies to reduce taxes and rents in order to support private bookstores, Liu Binjie, director of the General Administration of Press and Publication, said on Monday.

All cities will leave room for bookstores at major avenues, and all the new communities will take bookstores into their plans under the new policies that are likely to be issued this year.

In February, Shanghai and Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, introduced policies to support book retailers that were experiencing hardship.

Shanghai has offered 5 million yuan ($790,000) this year for bookstores, and the investment will remain at that level for at least five years.

Hangzhou allocates 3 million yuan every year to support private bookstores.