Boutique bookstores lead retail resurgence
China Daily

Smaller, more specialized brick-and-mortar outlets are helping to boost sales for China's bookselling industry.


Located on the 52nd story of Shanghai Tower, the newly opened Duoyun Books, a supporting venue for the fair, is popular among readers. (Photo: China Daily)

The flagship store of Duoyun Books was arguably the most popular among the bevy of supporting venues of the recently concluded Aug 14-20 Shanghai Book Fair, drawing hordes of visitors, many of whom waited for hours outside the store.

Located on the 52nd story of Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in the country, the bookstore was one of more than 100 locations in the city that held special events related to the annual fair, such as book signings, workshops and talks by authors. Five lectures and book readings were held at Duoyun Books during the fair. The bookstore only recently opened on Aug 12.

According to He Xiaomin, the public relations manager of the store, visitors often had to wait for an hour before they could even take the elevator up to the bookstore. On Saturday, the bookstore received more than 4,000 customers and achieved sales amounting to 130,000 yuan ($18,393).

Duoyun Books is a member of the Shanghai Century Publishing Group. The brand's first store opened last year at Guangfulin Park, the site where relics of ancient culture dating back to the Neolithic Age were unearthed. According to Wang Lan, president of the group, the Guangfulin shop "represents the city's history, and the flagship store at Shanghai Tower represents the height of modern development in the city".

According to Zhongjin Yiyun Technology Co Ltd, which surveyed more than 5,000 bookshops all over the country in the first half of 2019, small and medium-sized bookstores such as the new Duoyun branch have been important contributors to the resurgence of brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Zhu Ying, vice-president of the technology company that provides big data analysis for the publishing and bookselling industries, said at a recent publishing industry forum that brick-and-mortar bookstores in the country achieved sales of 2.4 billion yuan in the first half of this year, an increase of 4.69 percent over the previous year.

He points out that while large book malls are still the leaders in sales, accounting for half of the total sales volume, this growth was largely driven by small and medium-sized bookstores with annual sales of under 8 million yuan.

Liu Xiaokai, a senior publishing official, also revealed at the same forum that "brick-and-mortar bookstores managed to achieve gradual growth despite instabilities in the economy, and this reflects the resilience of the industry".

Liu suggests that bookstores must find a distinctive competitive edge by exploring indigenous resources and local characteristics in order to stand out. He also praised how China's bookstores have been integrating diverse services, developing cultural merchandise and creating new consumption models.

Xiaofeng Bookstore, which is based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, is one example of how this integration has paid off. The store, which has been around for more than two decades, has participated in the Shanghai Book Fair for seven consecutive years.

"We have 15 stores altogether and 400,000 members now, but we started as a small neighborhood shop 23 years ago," said Zhu Yufang, the general manager of the bookstore, during a forum at the book fair.

"Through the years we have sold or given out more than 280,000 canvas shopping bags, and we now see people carrying them around the streets and using them to carry the vegetables they buy. We have blended into the community through these efforts."

Several Xiaofeng bookstores are located in museums such as the China Silk Museum and the Liangzhu Museum in Zhejiang. The decor and range of books stocked at these shops, notes Zhu, have been tailored to suit museumgoers.

In 2016, Xiaofeng Bookstore opened an outlet in the Zhejiang People's Hospital. Pictures of a child with an intravenous drip reading a book was widely credited for raising the profile of the shop across the nation.

"More than 70 hospitals around the country approached us, inviting us to open bookshops on their premises, but we turned them all down. We couldn't figure out how to make a profit from them because internet sensations don't offer sustainable revenues," explains Zhu.

Xiaofeng currently operates three hospitals bookshops in Hangzhou.

In a move to create a stable revenue stream, Xiaofeng entered the wholesale business, collaborated with other enterprises like Alibaba and developed cultural merchandise that proved popular at the Shanghai Book Fair.

"Our staff are greatly inspired by the enthusiastic customers at the Shanghai Book Fair that visit our pavilion every year," says Zhu.

"We love to hear firsthand feedback from the customers at the fair. And we hope more people in Shanghai will visit Hangzhou and find Xiaofeng Bookstore a worthwhile destination."