China’s Book Stores Industry Adapt Under Pandemic Shutdown

A view of Yihe Bookstore, a branch of the renowned bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde in Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, on April 23, 2020 (Photo provided to Xinhua)

NANJING (Xinhua) — In the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, a city of literature named by the UNESCO, Yihe Bookstore launched a live streaming session on China’s video-sharing platform Douyin to reach its readers on World Book Day.

At the end of the live streaming event, Yihe, a branch of the renowned bookstore Librairie Avant-Garde, handed out vouchers to attract readers to buy books.

“Readers can enjoy a 30 percent discount when buying books with the vouchers, which is expected to help boost our book sales during this hard time,” said Li Ming, manager of Yihe Bookstore.

Greatly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, brick-and-mortar bookstores across China are forced to seek upgrades as the sales volume dived during the epidemic.

Organizing live events is one of the useful ways most brick-and-mortar bookstores will adopt to gather popularity. Activities usually include book sharing sessions and seminars among participants.

Zhang Chi, manager of Phoenix Cloud Bookstore in Nanjing, said the bookstore started to organize online activities in 2019 and has increased the frequency to cushion the impact on sales caused by the epidemic.

On Feb. 18, the bookstore held a 24-hour live streaming event during which 24 authors shared with readers their books and opinions about literature, attracting about 500,000 viewers.

Meanwhile, it also opened an online store to provide e-books and audiobooks to increase sales.

“Some readers like e-books since they are convenient and cost-effective, while others love the feel of paper books. We need to satisfy the diverse reading needs of different groups,” said Zhang.

More bookshops are currently evolving themselves into a multi-functional space that offers more than paper books.

Librairie Avant-Garde, an independent store in Nanjing, has a unique way of running their business. At the door of the bookstore, there is a small space for readers to write postcards and leave them in a red mailbox for delivery. Its various cultural and creative products also enjoy great popularity among consumers.

Phoenix Cloud Bookstore also provides special space for offline activities such as lectures and art displays. Readers can order meals and drinks in the cafe area.

“The income of the bookstore can be divided into three parts: 50 percent from book sales, 30 percent from online and offline activities and 20 percent from customized services such as cultural creative products,” said Zhang.

Creating theme-oriented reading areas is also a development trend of physical bookstores. For example, some bookstores set up specialized zones for children and parents to read books, play games and have meals.

Dai Lin, a frequent reader of Librairie Avant-Garde, has a habit of visiting various bookstores in Nanjing. Dai said he has witnessed the transformation of bookstores both in decoration and content in recent years.

“A future-minded bookstore is one that keeps up with changing times and caters to updated needs,” said Dai.