A New Page of Bookstores

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Independent bookstores survive with their own styles

Reporters: Emilie Lui, Lambert Siu, Hayley Wong, Cynthia Sit

Editor: Iris Yeung

The book retail industry in Hong Kong is dominated by one single publishing giant. Three major Chinese-language chain bookstores, namely the Commercial Press, Chung Hwa Bookstore, and Joint Publishing HK, are all under Sino United Publishing, which takes up around 80 per cent of market share according to local media reports.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is observing a change in reading behaviour. The Hong Kong Publishing Professional Society has done a survey of 2,063 local readers last year. Results found 31.2 per cent did not read any print books in the past year. About 63.9 per cent read with devices such as tablets and computers. The change in reading habit poses threats to the survival of bookstores.

In the wake of the situation, independent bookstores manage to survive in the competitive market. Instead of running as a traditional bookstore, owners highlight special elements in their stores to attract customers.

Beibei Book House is a bookstore inside a farmland in Kam Tin. Retired social workers Ringo Tsoi Man-yuen and Teresa Lee Sau-lai opened the bookstore three years ago to promote slow-paced living. Apart from enjoying unique reading experience at a farm, readers are encouraged to bring along unwanted books in exchange for a meal made with fresh produce from the farm.

Another bookstore Varsity reporters visited is The Book Cure, a second-hand bookstore inside a wet market. Phyllis Chan Lap-ching set up the bookstore because she thinks the young should read more.  Other than selling old books, she also organises book-sharing activities in hope of strengthening community bonding and promoting reading culture in their neighbourhood.

Nowadays, bookstores are more than just for buying books. Chow Ka-ying, who wrote two books about independent bookstores, says many operators are revitalising their business models.  She says quite a number of bookstores are selling beverages, cultural goods and handicrafts to enrich reading experience of their customers. This is a way for indie bookstores to differentiate themselves from other big players in this highly competitive trade.