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Monday, February 10, 2020, 14:40
Bookstores challenged to innovate
By Wang Ru
Monday, February 10, 2020, 14:40 By Wang Ru

With online orders threatening their very existence, physical shops seek to attract more readers

Qujiang Bookstore in Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi province, was chosen as one of the most beautiful bookstores in 2018. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Bookshops are facing a new challenge from the online market. This is highlighted by statistics released in January from Centrin Ecloud, a big data platform for China’s publishing industry. The data shows that, in 2019, the average discount for books sold offline was 91.39 percent, while the online equivalent was 63.79 percent. 

Consequently, books sold online are much cheaper than offline, and online orders are a clear and present danger to the development and existence of bookstores.

“Since the development of physical bookstores continues to be influenced by large discounts offered by online bookstores, physical bookstores have to be innovative,” said Zhang Lei, an expert in publishing, speaking at the 2020 China Bookstore Conference held in Beijing on Jan 8.

The conference, sponsored by the Books and Periodicals Distribution Association of China, Bookdao New Publishing Institute and Time Publishing and Media, was held to explore how to better develop physical bookstores and acknowledge the contribution made by distinctive bookstores.

The conference has been held for three consecutive years. The previous two focused on energizing bookstores and bookstore brands respectively. This time it focused on the renewal of bookstores.

“The renewal of bookstores requires people in this business to make changes in the overall function, ways of management and business format integration of bookstores to better suit modern retailing and customers’ needs,” Zhang said.

The 2019-2020 China Bookstore Industrial Report was released during the conference. The report listed the major events last year in the bookstore business. Opinions on the development of bookstores and key statistics were covered in the report.

Experts talked about their experience and offered suggestions for bookstores during the conference.

A cultural activity is held in Xiadi Paddy Field Bookstore of Librairie Avant-Garde in Pingnan county, Fujian province. It was selected as one of the most beautiful bookstores in 2019. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chen Xiaoming, CEO of Jihe Bookstore, highlighted the importance of building a suitable environment in bookstores to offer customers a sense of belonging and input and thus make them likely to linger in bookstores. For example, at the seven Jihe branch stores in China, arch walkways, resembling bridges, provide a sense of serenity to visitors and readers.

“The arch shape is beautiful and powerful, it can give people a sense of peace,” said Chen.

Each store has a unique design reflecting and paying homage to its location. For example, the first Jihe Bookstore in Xining, Northwest China’s Qinghai province, was built with the features of a snowy plateau, including the architectural style and local intangible cultural heritage, to make customers appreciate the natural splendor of the location.

People read in Shenzhen Book City CBD Store. Shenzhen was chosen as a “capital of bookstores” in 2019. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Xu Zhiming, an adviser for Bookdao New Publishing Institute, suggested bookstores should also provide customers with an environment to study. “With the development of technology, many jobs will be replaced by robots and AI. As a result, people are forced to master ever more technology to ensure they do not lag behind.

“The need to learn has grown dramatically. Lifelong learning has become a must for nearly all people,” said Xu.

“Traditional physical bookstores sold books for readers to improve themselves, but since online bookstores rob this function, physical bookstores can satisfy the need to study in other ways, like providing training courses, and a discussion space,” Xu added.

Though there are numerous training courses online, Xu said some cannot be done just on the internet, like courses for tasting wine and children’s handiwork. These, however, can be done in bookstores.

“Besides, people have a need for social intercourse, and it can be combined with their need of learning in bookstores where they are able to study together,” he added.

Awards covering the most beautiful bookstores, rural bookstores of the year and community bookstores of the year were announced during the conference.

Shenzhen became the third “capital of bookstores” in 2019, following Chengdu and Xi’an. 

It recognizes its front-runner status in the number of bookstores, provincial reading rates and policy support.

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