Bookshops reinvent themselves
Updated: 2016-04-01 08:28
By Yang Yang(China Daily Europe)
A display of books by female authors at Eslite bookstore in Suzhou. [Photo by Yang Yang / China Daily]
Cultural products are also important moneymakers for Avant-Garde, while Zhongshuge relies heavily on food and drink sales to bolster its income.
The bookstore managers seem proud of the books they sell. They do not sell textbooks and other learning aids, and they avoid self-help books. Avant-Garde and Zhongshuge focus on literature, arts, history and philosophy. Eslite has opened special sections on travel and lifestyle.
As someone who appreciates Vincent van Gogh, I was happy to see a translated copy of Lust for Life, about Van Gogh, at Eslite. The four copies of its Taiwan edition were put on the shelf among its books of the month. Around them were The Poems of Emily Dickinson, The Illuminaries by Eleanor Catton and The Blind Massage by Bi Feiyu. These selections, an Eslite tradition, are picked by a team of 50 to 60 people from the mainland and Taiwan.
Avant-Garde's Zhang Xing says many people today are keen on opening bookstores, but being able to compete with others lies in the skills and knowledge of the people shops employ.
"We have two staff members whose specific job is to choose books. They have followed the publishing industry for more than 10 years. You can't just recruit a person with a PhD to do the job. It's not that easy."
Indeed, it costs a lot to run a store covering 3,750 square meters, not to mention one that runs at a loss year after year.
At Avant-Garde, two solemn, black crosses that hang overhead are inescapable, as are the 72 steps that take you to the entrance of Eslite bookstore, at the right side of which are book titles that mark the bookshop's growth. You also can't miss the starlit ceiling of Zhongshuge's room for art books.
All of these shops are renowned for the flair of their design and their ambience, which has helped turn them into must-see destinations for tourists.
Asked about the difference between buying books online and in physical shops, Lang equates it to the difference that a devout believer would find in praying at an online church and going to St Paul's Cathedral in London.
"We want to change people through books. Or we just offer them a space in which the music, the smell of drinks or food, the beautiful design of the products, the touch of a good book, the names of the authors or the book titles, run to you, bringing with it knowledge, broadening your view, cultivating your tastes and in the end helping to mold your personal disposition."
The new generation of book buyers in the mainland, mostly under 25, are different in the way they buy things, he says. Social transformation through urbanization is also bringing about new ways of buying and marketing. Looking attractive has become critical to bookstores, which have become places where people are looking for themselves through books.
"Each Zhongshuge is different in terms of design and market niche, but they have one thing in common," Tao says. "They are all highly attractive, and that is one of the essentials."