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From Dusty Pages to Busy Aisles: The Resurgence of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores in China

ChinaFrom Dusty Pages to Busy Aisles: The Resurgence of Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores in China

Brick-and-mortar bookshops in China have witnessed a strong resurgence in the book retail sector during the Chinese New Year period. This has been attributed to an increase in customers returning to physical bookstores and growing sales.

The upturn in the book industry is a positive sign for the sector, which had been struggling in recent years due to the rise of e-commerce and digital books. The renewed interest in traditional bookshops could be a result of consumers seeking more offline experiences and a return to physical reading material.

In Beijing alone, nearly 200,000 citizens visited bookshops, and over 160 offline bookstores had sales exceeding 20 million yuan ($2.92 million), with some large-scale shops, such as Wangfujing Bookstore and Beijing Book Building, seeing sales surpassing 1 million yuan each. Books on politics, traditional culture, and social science sold particularly well, and many shops saw an increase of over 50 percent in their value of retail sales year on year.

Xu Jin, head of the marketing center of Beijing Book Building, said that the most challenging time for bookstores was over, and their shop is confident that it can provide more high-quality publications this year and contribute to the reading atmosphere of the city. Wangfujing Bookstore received over 100,000 customers in January 2023, a significant increase compared to December 2022. One customer who traveled a long way to get there said that an offline bookstore is a better option if one wants to choose books carefully.

The success of offline bookstores may be attributed to the lack of alternatives in small towns and rural areas, where online shopping and e-books are not yet popular. The resurgence of interest in reading and physical books may also be due to the pandemic, with more people looking for entertainment and information at home. The increased demand for high-quality publications and traditional culture suggests that the Chinese public is becoming more discerning in their reading choices, and bookstores are adapting to meet their needs.

The recovery of the book retail sector is not only good news for booksellers but also for publishers and authors, who have seen a decline in the sales of physical books in recent years. The renewed interest in reading may encourage more people to pursue a career in writing or publishing, contributing to the development of China’s cultural industry.

The Beijing Book Building experienced a significant increase in footfall during January, nearing 200,000 visitors. The most popular genres were children’s books, literature, and culture. The rise in visitors is a positive sign for the book industry in China, which was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few years. While the footfall has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, the increase is a positive sign of recovery.

Beijing Zhongshuge Bookstore, located in Xidan Galeries Lafayette, experienced a dramatic increase in daily customers compared to previous years. The store had fewer than ten customers a day during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, this January, the store had around 570 daily customers, with some tourists from outside Beijing coming to buy books during the Spring Festival. The increase in footfall has boosted the store’s confidence, and they are hopeful for continued growth in the coming months.

To encourage reading and engagement, the store shared information on reading activities in online chat groups. These activities were booked up quickly, indicating a resurgence in readers’ interest in books. In the past, many readers were not enthusiastic about these activities due to COVID-19 concerns. However, with the situation improving, they have made a robust comeback, providing an opportunity for bookstores to engage with customers and promote reading culture.

Zhongshuge, which has opened 42 chain stores across several Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Xi’an, received over 860,000 customers in January, an increase of more than 20 percent year on year. The store’s success is a testament to the growing interest in books and reading culture in China, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Similar scenes were seen in China’s countryside, with the Shaxi Bai Ethnic Bookstore in Beilong village, Jianchuan county, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, receiving over 30,000 customers in January. This figure is more than five times the store’s footfall during the previous year’s Spring Festival, according to Hu Jiao, the store’s manager. Many customers were tourists from major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Sichuan, and Chongqing, indicating a growing interest in reading and literature across China.

Overall, the increase in footfall at bookstores in China is a positive sign of the industry’s recovery after a challenging period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With growing interest in reading culture and the promotion of reading activities, bookstores are expected to continue to attract customers and play an essential role in promoting literacy and education across China.

The granary-turned bookshop, which spans an area of approximately 600 square meters, specializes in selling books on literature, poetry, and Yunnan culture. The store witnessed a remarkable surge in its turnover in January, which increased by 300 percent year-on-year to reach approximately 850,000 yuan. The growth in the store’s turnover is a promising indication of the growing interest in books and literature in China.

In addition to selling books, bookstores in China have become a platform for promoting and preserving culture. The Wangfujing Bookstore, for example, has invited inheritors of intangible cultural heritage to teach visitors traditional handicrafts such as kite-making. Similarly, many other bookstores in China have organized cultural events to bring Chinese traditions closer to people’s daily lives. These events provide a unique opportunity for people to learn about their country’s rich cultural heritage and foster a deeper appreciation for traditional Chinese culture.

In conclusion, the trend of bookstores serving as a stage for spreading and preserving culture is expected to continue in China. By organizing cultural events and promoting the country’s heritage, bookstores can attract customers and promote literacy and education. The growing interest in traditional Chinese culture, combined with the increasing popularity of books and reading, makes bookstores an essential part of China’s cultural landscape.

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