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UPDATED: November 28, 2011 NO. 48 DECEMBER 1, 2011
The Disappearing Bookstore
Traditional bookstores face challenge

PAYMENT DILEMMA: An outlet of O2 Sun Bookstore in Beijing is forced to shut down (CFP)

"As online bookstores become more and more popular, traditional bookstores are disappearing, and a whole attitude and lifestyle is in danger of disappearing with them," said Xue Yuan, author of the book Hello! The Independent Bookstores.

Every city is home to a certain number of bookstores. And a good bookstore is usually seen as a cultural landmark within a city. In Beijing, there is All Sages Books; in Nanjing, Librairie Bookstore; in Hangzhou, Fenglinwan Bookstore; in Guangzhou, Xooyo Book; and Eslite Bookstore in Taipei. While these landmark bookstores are not in immediate danger of disappearing, many smaller bookstores are vanishing from the maps of major cities. Recently, the temporary suspension of business at the large private O2 Sun chain of bookstores, which once operated over 30 outlets, aroused great concern from Beijing's book lovers.

The Beijing News newspaper reported that O2 Sun Bookstore closed its Wudaokou branch in Haidian District, Beijing, and its Soho branch in Chaoyang District in Beijing, on October 29 when the company was unable to make payments to suppliers.

Sun Chi, founder of O2 Sun Bookstore, admitted that the bookstore had encountered some financial difficulties.

"However, we will try our best to maintain the management. Only if we can no longer pay our staff, will we consider closing some stores," Sun said.

The O2 Sun Bookstore is just one of dozens of brick and mortar bookstores across the country that have encountered serious difficulties.

In recent years, many bookstores have gone out of business. Disanji Bookstore closed its doors in January 2010; Forest Song Bookstore stopped doing business in July 2010; SDX Joint Publishing Co. withdrew from Guangzhou this September.

Ailing operation

"Many readers only browse books in our bookstore, they go home and actually purchase their books online at a lower price. How can we survive?" said Chen Dingfang, founder of Guangzhou Xooyo Book, on his microblog.

With enormous choices and no pressure to pay rent, online bookstores offer customers lower prices. Dangdang, the biggest online bookstore in China, slashed its prices by 35 percent in April and by 50 percent in May as a way to attract customers. Online booksellers now control so much of the market share that traditional bookstores are now competing for an ever-shrinking share of the market.

The demand for books remains strong. However, purchases are simply being made online and traditional bookstores have effectively become free exhibition platforms for online bookstores.

"I used to buy books in traditional bookstores. I often went to the Soho branch of O2 Sun Bookstore with my friends and spent half a day there. But now, I choose to buy books online as it's more convenient and cheaper," said Yang Jing, a Beijing office worker.

"Rent and employees' salaries now account for half of the total cost of a traditional bookstore. Online stores don't have these burdens," said Lu Jinbo, a renowned domestic publisher and General Manager of Wan Rong Book Co. Ltd.

The 17-year old Forest Song Bookstore, which was one of the three largest private bookstores in Beijing, has not reopened after it announced a temporary suspension of business in July. President of the bookstore Wang Hongbin said that the store rent had surpassed 50,000 yuan ($7874) monthly, which was more than the business could sustain. He added that a combination of rising rents and fierce competition from online retailers had rendered his bookstore unviable.

Sun Chi of the O2 Sun Bookstore is also not optimistic. "Sales revenue has gone from bad to worse in the last four years. This year revenues have dropped 40 percent! It is now in a struggle to pay our managers," he said.

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