China's bookstores face challenging new chapter in e-commerce age

Source:Xinhua Published: 2014-2-5 15:43:36

When Wan Guoying opened her small bookstore in 1992, she never expected science and humanities books would power almost 20 years of booming business.

Over the past two decades, Wan's Qingyuan Bookstore has become one of the most popular places for bookworms and science whizzes in Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province.

"The books I picked were quite popular and always sold out," Wan said, recalling her early memories of the store, which is now one of the few privately owned bookstores in Nanchang.

Her books were so popular that she managed to open a few more stores in the university areas of the city to meet demand.

It all went well until 2008, when the growth of online retailers and the emergence of e-books began to eat away at business, fueling concerns among owners of China's brick-and-mortar bookstores.

"The Internet tornado just took our readers away," said Wan, whose bookstore is now operating at an annual loss of 200,000 yuan ($33,000).

In fact, the allure of e-books and online retail is so strong that it has sent famed bookstores like Disanji Bookstore and Jifeng Books in Beijing into bankruptcy.

As the outcry among bookstore owners grew, Wan, who is now deputy director of the Jiangxi Books Distribution Association, raised a campaign with the owners of 400 private bookstores in the province in January, accusing authorities of inaction and calling for governmental and societal efforts in saving China's bookstores.

The Chinese government has not ignored their plight. The Ministry of Finance and State Administration of Taxation issued a circular at the end of 2013 that eliminated value-added taxes for wholesale and retail sales of books in the country, a preferential policy that in the past was exclusively made for Xinhua Bookstores, a state-owned book distribution enterprise.

But that is not enough to offset the disadvantages of small bookstores, which are squeezed by e-books and unfair industry competition, said Bao Hong, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication.

"Online book sales are growing, forcing publishing enterprises to be increasingly reliant on online bookstores," Bao said.

Bao said that besides scrapping taxes, the government could ramp up subsidies for bookstores.

Despite challenges, Wan did not let the seemingly invincible e-commerce competition get her down. In her eyes, a change in management style is inevitable as physical bookstores in China grapple through a thicket of troubles.

To boost lackluster sales, she selected about 30,000 books out of 230,000 new arrivals for customers and opened a tea room in the store, which has created a more relaxed environment, according to Wan.

Meanwhile, she regularly hosts reading salons for readers to exchange ideas and invites celebrated writers to hold press conferences for their books.

The change in style has allowed the store to attract a new legion of fans in the neighborhood, who come to Qingyuan on weekends and during holidays to be immersed in the world of books.

"I feel like my store is more like a cultural center now," Wan said, adding that she is drawing inspiration from bookstores such as Eslite and Page One, which provide not only books, but a wide range of services, including coffee, tea, and lectures.

"The road ahead will be difficult, but I will try my best to create more value for my store," Wan said.

Posted in: Society, Industries

blog comments powered by Disqus