Physical bookstores in Beijing gains new vitality

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In the evening, in the Bi’an Bookstore on Huayuan Road, Haidian district, Beijing, customers were browsing books while several young people were engrossed in their studies in a self-study room. Dozens of member readers waited quietly for a music concert to start.

“We are holding seven activities today, and there are also many customers coming to buy books,” said Zhao Yuechao, the founder of the bookstore. “We hope to attract more readers through quality books, creative displays, thoughtful service, and rich activities.”

In recent years, brick-and-mortar bookstores have been faced pressures like business transformation. To alleviate such pressures, relevant authorities in Beijing introduced relevant support measures.

“Since 2019, Beijing has invested 100 million yuan ($13.72 million) in supporting physical bookstores each year, which helped a total of around 1,000 bookstores,” said an official with the publicity authority of Beijing.

Government departments have coordinated resources, helped bookstores develop on e-commerce platforms, and conducted live streaming marketing events, continuously expanding bookstores’ sales channels, the official added.

“These support measures have boosted the confidence of brick-and-mortar booksellers and underscored the importance of reading for everyone,” said Ma Lijie, manager of the Chunfengzai Bookstore.

For two consecutive years, the Chunfengzai bookstore has received subsidy. Seventy percent of the subsidy it received last year was used to purchase quality books, and 15 percent to renovate and upgrade in-store facilities.

Wei Yushan, head of the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, told that Beijing’s physical bookstore industry overall showed stable development and quality improvement thanks to the strong support from the government.

Since 2016, the number of physical bookstores in Beijing has continued to grow, exceeding 2,100 as of the third quarter of 2022, according to him. In 2022, Beijing held over 30,000 featured reading activities, reaching and joined by over 20 million people.

In the view of Liu Mingqing, chairman of Beijing Zhixin Cultural Industry Institute, Beijing’s successive policies supporting physical bookstores are not simply about helping bookstores get by, but energizing them and encouraging them to make innovations and achieve lasting development.

Whether in bustling commercial districts or remote suburbs, people in the Chinese capital can always encounter featured bookstores.

Beijing has introduced a special support policy to help pair bookstores with communities. The policy encourages each bookstore to collaborate with 5 to 10 nearby communities so residents can buy and borrow books and participate in diverse cultural activities right at their doorsteps.

Zhang Hongyi is a beneficiary of the policy. The Nanting Xinyuan community where she lives, located in Fengtai district, used to have no bookstores nearby. “It took me nearly two hours on the bus to get to the nearest bookstore,” she said. In 2021, a bookstore opened in the community, much to the residents’ delight. Zhang’s child has become a regular customer of the bookstore. “My child goes to the bookstore right after school and doesn’t want to leave once there,” said Zhang.

Some people, due to visual impairments, cannot read ordinary books. Others in wheelchairs cannot hit bookstores due to mobility issues. How can their reading needs be met? These “pain points” are perfectly solved at the barrier-free bookstore Shanyuan, which means good will in Chinese.

In the Bookstore, shelves are split into 6 tiers, with the bottom kept clear as an 80-centimeter-tall opening. The tables and counters have open sections underneath, creating ample space for people in wheelchairs to easily access and browse the books. Following accessible design concepts, the edges of the shelves and furniture are curved to prevent injuries. Apart from the hardware design, the bookstore also provides braille and large font books.

“The biggest significance of accessible bookstores is allowing persons with disabilities to access knowledge equally like the able-bodied,” said Liu Daming, who has osteogenesis imperfecta and often goes to the Shanyuan Bookstore.

“I hope more and more of such bookstores will open,” he noted.

“Why do readers come to bookstores? How to keep them there? How to make them come back again?” These are questions Qi Hang, manager of the Youmo Bookstore, has always pondered, and also questions physical bookstores cannot avoid in the internet age.

The Youmo Bookstore takes a meticulous approach to curating specialty themes. They offer professional yet amicable services to pique readers’ interest, thus ultimately spurring purchases.

“Physical bookstores are becoming integrated platforms, using books as the medium, gathering diverse cultural elements, and building rich business models,” said Liu Aicheng, founder of the Shanyuan Bookstore.

According to an official with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication, Beijing has preliminarily built a public reading service network that enables residents to find a public library, comprehensive book mall, featured bookstore or community bookstore in 15 minutes of walk, which adequately fulfills people’s cultural and literary needs.



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