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New bookshop enriches cultural life of Zhuhai

Wed, 30th Sep 2015
On 30th May this year, Zhuhai’s largest and most modern bookshop celebrated its first birthday with six cultural events that attracted hundreds of people to share the anniversary. (September 2015)

On 30th May this year, Zhuhai’s largest and most modern bookshop celebrated its first birthday with six cultural events that attracted hundreds of people to share the anniversary.

Yuechao (Read Zone) is on the third floor of the city’s biggest and newest shopping centre, Huafa Shangdu (the Mall of Hua Fa), which opened on 30th May 2014. Huafa is the biggest property developer in the special economic zone.

In its first year, Read Zone attracted more than one million visitors, with an average of 80,000 a month and up to 7,000 a day on weekends. It put on more than 80 cultural events, including musical performances, book presentations, discussions and celebrity appearances.

It considers the model so successful that it wants to expand to other cities.

The book market in China, as in other countries, is going through a challenging period. Many readers do not buy any more at bookshops but on the Internet, whose companies offer discounts, especially for popular titles, and deliver to your door. So people go to bookstores to see the latest offerings and go home to place an order on the Net.

As a result, many traditional stores, including state-owned ones, have closed. In their place have sprung up new entrants which aim to attract customers by good service, a wide range of titles and a pleasant environment where they can linger and browse.

One successful model is the Eslite chain, which has 48 bookshops in Taiwan and one in Hong Kong; it is due to open one in Suzhou this year, its first in the mainland. It derives less than half of its revenue from book sales; the rest comes from a coffee shop, restaurant and sales of a wide range of upmarket products. It also rents space to other vendors.

Fangsuo, based in the high-class Taikoo Hui shopping mall in Guangzhou, has followed the Eslite model. It is one of the most upmarket malls in the city, selling expensive foreign brands and attracting wealthy shoppers; Fangsuo has more than 130,000 titles.

Monthly sales of books have reached 1.5 million yuan, 35 percent of its overall revenue. In February this year, Fangsuo opened its second branch, in 4,000 square metres of space, in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, also in the Taikoo Hui mall. It is located on two underground floors, with bookshelves stretching 100 metres; it sells imported handicrafts and clothes and has a coffee shop, with potted plants and flower arrangements brightening the space.

Chongqing followed in March, then a branch in Qingdao is planned later this year and Shanghai in 2017.

The Chengdu branch will organise poetry readings and extend business hours to enable bands to stage performances.

“A brick-and-mortar bookstore that only sells books is unable to survive in the digital age,” said Liao Mei-li, the chief consultant to Fangsuo and a co-founder of Eslite. “However, what is amazing about the book industry is that it can do crossovers with many other industries, such as beverages and music. There is a market for such cross-industry bookstores.”

Read Zone is using a similar model.

Huafa Mall

The Huafa Mall is the largest and most upmarket shopping complex in Zhuhai. It opened on 30th May 2014; it involved an investment of two billion yuan for a floor area of 180,000 square metres, divided into three sections, A, B and C, which are linked by corridors.

It has more than 200 international brands, including Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Dior, Burberry, H&M, Calvin Klein and Esprit; half of them were entering the Zhuhai market for the first time. It has more than 30 food and beverage outlets, including Hello Kitty, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Pacific Coffee.

It also has shops selling clothes, toys and electrical appliances, a supermarket and a cinema.

“We have to have a bookshop in the Huafa Mall,” said a spokesman for the Huafa Group. “State companies are withdrawing from the retail sale of books.

We needed to have a bookshop for a city like Zhuhai which has international culture. We wanted to provide a high-quality living experience with high-quality brands.”

The store has a spacious area on the third floor of the C section and includes four sections – a coffee shop, selling books, brand goods and a space for creativity and design.

The brands include Wedgwood china from Britain, Alessi furniture from Italy, Hua Feng furniture from Thailand and imported stationery – Moleskine of Italy, Midori of Japan and Kaweco from Germany.

It has 100,000 titles, including on art, lifestyle, literature, children’s books, interior design, architecture and cuisine. Like other bookshops in the mainland, it is not allowed to sell books from Hong Kong, Taiwan or overseas unless their import has been approved by the customs department and they have paid a tax on them.

 Fangsuo sells thousands of books from Hong Kong and Taiwan which use traditional characters, rather than the simplified ones of the mainland.  

Attracting the public

When it opened, Read Zone had several advantages. Zhuhai did not have a bookshop of its size and variety. Second, it had an excellent location inside a large shopping mall which had many goods to offer consumers; they could walk from the supermarket and the restaurant to the bookshop, without having to take a bus or drive a car.

Huafa Mall is designed to keep families for several hours – eating, drinking, enjoying the different products and relaxing. It has hundreds of car parking spaces below ground – a sign of the prosperity of Zhuhai and how Chinese cities are copying the US model of mall shopping.

Third, Read Zone offered more space and comfort than traditional bookshops which have stacks of titles and little or no room for people to read them before deciding to purchase. They want you to buy quickly and leave to make way for the next client.

Read Zone, on the other hand, encouraged you to linger and enjoy a coffee and look over the other goods it had to offer in addition to books. The profit margin on books is small but that on its other products is high – specialty coffee and imported furniture and stationery. 

Its range of subject matter aims to attract a wide audience – including art, literature, children’s books and titles on health, interior design, architecture, cuisine and lifestyle.

A novelty for a bookshop in Zhuhai was organising events, with the aim of making the store a cultural hub and a place where people wanted to meet each other.

In the first year, it held more than 80 events, including 32 “cultural salons”, musical performan-ces, presentations by well-known designers and performers and presentations of books by their authors. One of the invitees was famous tenor Warren Mok Wah-lun.

It also invited specialists in coffee to come and show their skills in making the perfect cup and introducing the many varieties to the local audience.

“I like Read Zone,” said Liang Ming-xiu, a secondary school teacher. “For me, it is like the Fangsuo shop in Guangzhou. I like the space and the opportunity to sit down and enjoy a book or chat with friends. It is less stressful than going to other bookshops.”

Wealth of Zhuhai

The success of Huafa Mall and Read Zone is only possible because of the wealth of Zhuhai. In GDP per capita terms, it is one of the richest cities in China.

In 2014, according to official figures, the annual average income of its 1.5 million residents was 33,235 yuan, up 9.5 percent on 2013, and the average residential space was 30 square metres. Both of these are far above the national average.

As of the end of 2014, foreign and local currency deposits in the city’s banks reached 457 billion yuan, up 10.9 percent on a year earlier, of which individual deposits accounted for 153.5 billion, up 3.7 percent.

In 2014, it attracted 46 million visitors, an increase of 15.5 percent over 2013. Tourism, manufacturing, education, retirement and second homes are the main pillars of the city’s economy.

Dr Thomas Chan, head of the China Business Centre at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said that, by 2012, Zhuhai city per capita GDP had grown to 96,725 yuan, or over US$ 15,000: “This qualifies the local economy as an upper-middle income economy by world standards and ranks first in the PRD and China.”

All this wealth has created a substantial class of rich and middle class people who have the money and desire to spend in Huafa Mall and the Read Zone bookshop. These families own at least one car, making it easy for them to go there.

The mall is in the middle of Huafa New City, one of the city’s most upmarket residential areas. It covers a total area of 700,000 square metres, with a population of more than 20,000. It offers a ready market for the mall and for Read Zone.

By Luo Xunzhi in Zhuhai, China

Photos by Eric Ta

(Issue N. 30, September 2015)