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Economic reforms boost vigor of bookstores in the country

By WANG RU | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-16 08:15
Customers read books at a bookstore established by online retailer Dangdang, which opened in June in Nanning in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. [PHOTO BY PENG HUAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Many people know that foreign countries have more libraries than China.

"But actually we have more bookstores, which can play the role of libraries, enabling buyers to read for free," Li Zhanjun, chairman of Beijing Publications Distribution Group, said during a ceremony in Jinan, Shandong province, on Nov 1. The event paid tribute to distinguished figures in the field of publishing and bookstores over the past 40 years since China's reform and opening-up.

Over 200 people in this field gathered to discuss the development of publishing and bookstores.

"This ceremony is of great importance since it retrospectively examines the progress achieved in China's book distribution system and encourages future innovation and development," says Ai Limin, chairman of the Books and Periodicals Distribution Association of China.

Li spoke about how physical bookstores have transformed over the past decades.

"In the past, bookstores just sold books. But now, they are supposed to serve the buyers."

It was difficult to buy books decades ago. But now, it is too easy. Many people prefer to buy books online, and the rest who go to stores are often bookworms.

"Online bookstores have become a strong competitor for us with their convenience, so we have to develop more business forms as our own strength," Li says.

"But simply adding more forms is not enough. Integration is more ideal."

Integration means that bookstores should guide new lifestyles. First, the environment must be comfortable and elegant. Then, it should develop multiple business modes with reading at their core. Finally, it should serve as a social platform for cultural activities.

Li stresses the urban bookstore model as a way forward.

"A city should have a cluster of bookstores so that they can guide reading, serve as platforms for social activities and provide comprehensive cultural services," Li says.

"We also want to build 24-hour bookstores that can meet different needs in the daytime and at night."

Such stores operate as usual during the day but also become a feature of nightlife.

Moreover, he says "specialized expertise" is needed to select books.

"Choosing which books to sell is of vital importance when nearly 400,000 to 500,000 new books enter the market every year. You must know which are good enough to be put on the bookshelves," Li says.

"We even find that the sales volume of a bookstore without the relevant shopping guide may drop by 15 to 17 percent. We need professionals to do this."

Liu Binjie, director-general of the Publishers Association of China, suggests people in the field of book distribution develop new reading spaces with multiple functions in brick-and-mortar bookstores and give priority to the quality of service they provide to readers.

Zhu Yufang, general manager of Hangzhou Xiao Feng Bookstore, says the most important thing for private bookstores is to infuse the cultures of the places where they are located.

"Since we opened stores in Hangzhou, we have combined the city's cultural elements like dialect, historical stories and cultural celebrities, and make them our brand features."

For example, Chinese painter Feng Zikai, who regarded Hangzhou as his "second hometown", is a symbolic figure of the city.

Xiao Feng Bookstore has developed cultural and creative products using Feng's paintings to sell in its stores.

"Each of our 14 branch stores has its own characteristics. For example, one has opened in an art gallery, one in the China National Silk Museum, one in a hospital, and some others are in universities, communities and companies," says Zhu.

"When we open a bookstore in a community, we hope residents there can feel proud of our store. We hope they like to go there when they take walks."

She has confidence in the prospects of private bookstores.

"There are always some people who want to read on their own and require such an environment. And we are changing all the time to meet more and more demands."

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