SCRIPTING A NEW CHAPTER
From revamping their appearance to government support, owners of bookshops are trying everything to survive. reports.
branches and bookstore owners to discuss how to implement the guidelines.
“The guidelines are unprecedented and the most detailed I’ve seen for 30 years, and have practical suggestions,” says San Shi.
The guidelines call for more 24-hour bookstores, suggest ways to increase the number of bookstores to meet both urban and rural needs, and urge bookstores to use the internet to offer a print-on-demand service.
The guidelines also say the ministries will work together to offer favorable tax policies, special funds and reduced rents to bookstores. They will also ensure that new residential neighborhoods reserve land for bookstores, and will streamline administrative approvals market.
About five years ago, the country saw bookstores shutting or moving from busy streets to city fringes.
Explaining the trend, Cai Fuchao, the minister of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, says: “Rents were rising and people were buying books online.”
Meanwhile, San Shi says he has noticed a revival in the bookstore business since 2014. He adds there are more people reading now.
Zhang Zuozhen, general manager of Joint Publishing Bookstores, says his store switched to 24-hour operations in 2014, and not only did this earn praise from Premier Li Keqiang, but it also performed and regulate the very well. It earned income of 20.5 million yuan ($3.1 million) that year, up 58 percent from a year earlier, making a profit of 2.6 million yuan, a jump of 130 percent.
The premier wrote a letter in April last year to the bookstore that says: “A bookstore is a spiritual home. It should light up roads for night readers, spur reading and spread the warmth of knowledge.”
Cai says that on average the Chinese read around five printed books a year.
But the country’s leaders want people to become more avid readers.
Xu Jiong, director of the Shanghai Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, says the municipal government spent 50 million yuan over 2012-15 to support bookstores, and is offering tax incentives as well.
“Another 29.5 million yuan came from the central government,” saysXu, adding that the policies gave hope to bookstore owners.
Separately, Cai says that at the state level, a total of 5 billion yuan worth of tax incentives was planned in 2013 for bookstores that will be effective through 2017.
He says that as of now there are 870,000 people engaged in the book retailing business and the gross value of publications sold annually works out to 60 billion yuan.
“Itmay not be a big industry, but it is much valued,” he says.
Speaking of how the new guidelines took shape, Cai recalled a case from a few years ago when an entrepreneur in Shanxi province shut a bookstore within a year of its opening. He said this led the administration to study the case and come up with new policies.
“It’s a business that produces small profits. I know that bookstore owners are people who hold fast to their cultural beliefs,” Cai says, adding that the administration will also tackle problems like price wars.
Xu Nan, one of the 13 backers of the renowned One Way Street Library, a privately funded bookstore chain that was set up in 2005, knows of both the hardships and the role of innovation in the book business.
“We’ve held thousands of cultural events (to promote the business),” Xu tells China Daily, adding that the bookstore chain recently received an additional investment and is setting up a charity fund to sponsor more cultural events, productions and artists.
The first project is the “My Favorite Book” video project, which involves people from all walks of life talking of one book they love. Their “contributions” will be shared on various new media platforms.
While bookstores may be facing some of the biggest challenges to their existence, innovative measures by store owners and potentially big governmental support and investment may yet see them survive and thrive.
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