Still, CUHK’s Yan says the so-called upper-floor bookstores could benefit if Eslite’s arrival boosts the reading culture and demand for books in Hong Kong in the longer term. He says the independents have the advantage of being more flexible with pricing and other sales practices. Just a street away from the Eslite store is Reading Book Store. The person in charge, Zita Yeung Shuk-kwan, says Eslite’s presence has not hurt business so far. On the contrary, they are seeing increased foot traffic since the megastore opened.
As a small independent, Yeung says one of their strategies for attracting customers is to sell books for an average of 20 to 30 per cent less than bigger chain stores.
Joyce Au Yeung is a 27-year-old local newspaper reporter who has been buying books from upper-floor bookstores since she was in secondary school. Yeung says she prefers upper-floor bookstores to Eslite because they charge less and the staff are generally more knowledgeable about books.
Economics lecturer Yan Wai-hin says independent bookstores survive by retaining the loyalty of existing customers. The loyalty is built through the interaction between readers and shop owners. For example, most independent bookshop owners are familiar with their books and readers are welcome to ask for recommendations and make comments.
“When you approach the cashier at Eslite Bookstore, will you expect him or her to be able to give comments [on books]?” asks Yan.
Estella Wong Sau-ling, a part time postgraduate psychology student at the University of Hong Kong, has been a regular at Book Attic, an independent bookstore in Sheung Wan selling second-hand English books, since her undergraduate days.
At first, she mainly visited the store to buy children’s storybooks for the private lessons she gave to primary school students. Later on, when she discovered that her reading choices were similar to the shop owner’s, she spent time talking to the owner every time she visited the shop. “Sometimes we would chat for so long that I even forgot to buy the books that I needed,” she jokes.
Wong has been to the new Eslite store and says the thing she finds most impressive is the variety of magazines it offers. However, she was disappointed by how noisy it was and by the lack of seats. “It’s more like people are having fun rather than reading at Eslite Bookstore,” she says.