Chinese bookstores are booming – and their looks may matter more than their books

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Visitors take photos and read books in Shenzhen on November 13, 2021, at Zhongshuge Bookstore, a famous interior design chain.

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BEIJING – Social media plays such an important role for Chinese consumer companies that for a multitude of new bookstores, visual appeal tends to be a priority.

The elaborate interiors – sometimes magnified by mirrors – not only caught the attention of “Architectural Digest”, but also of young Chinese in search of new experiences.

“The Chinese consumer, in particular the post-90 [generation], they want convenience, they want novelty, ”said Derek Deng, partner of Shanghai-based Bain & Co., who leads the company’s consumer products practice in Greater China.

“They want the products [that] not only by meeting their functional needs, but also by meeting their emotional needs, ”he said, whether it’s something you can show your peers, something you always find funny or something that you just want to integrate more easily. “

Shopping centers have noticed it. Rather than signing deals with department stores to make them the main draw for customers, malls turned to coffee shops and teas, finely designed bookstores, electric car showrooms and other stores. . trend, said Jacky Zhu, research director for West China at JLL.

“They can generate pedestrian traffic. They can generate foot traffic for a targeted customer, ”he said. This is so much the case, he added, that malls will let bookstores pay a third or a quarter of the rent for a clothing or cosmetics store.

In addition to visually appealing interiors, many bookstores in China sell coffee, stationery, and gifts. Nostalgia for China over the past decades is a popular theme.

One of Mia Huang’s favorite bookstores is a shop in a traditional Beijing courtyard with four walls. The store displays many historical items such as bicycles and door signs, and has a public reading area, she said.

Huang, who is a post-90s generation, said she quit her job at an internet technology company in 2019 to become a full-time travel blogger – sharing comments, photos and videos about her experiences.

This building in Beijing, China was built in 1907 as the city’s first Anglican church, but lost its religious functions a long time ago and was turned into a bookstore before this photo was taken on June 21, 2019 .

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Another of Huang’s favorite bookstores is one converted from a church building in Beijing.

“A lot of people go out there to ‘check in’,” she said in Mandarin, referring to a trend where people visit places they’ve seen on social media and then pick up their tickets. tickets. own photos to prove they went.

Going to bookstores isn’t really for buying books, she said, noting that many stores have become tourist attractions or cozy places to take a break.

Some bookstores in China have become so popular that thousands of people are ready to head to remote areas, according to a 2019 report from the state-affiliated online publication Sixth Tone. A village location of the trendy Librairie Avant-Garde bookstore reported 1.5 million yuan ($ 234,375) in revenue for the year through mid-November, according to a report by the state newspaper China Daily.

It is less clear whether the renewed interest in visually appealing bookstores means that businesses are actually profiting from the sale of books.

Store title selections are often concentrated in art and design, while gift items other than books can take up a significant portion of floor space, the reporter observed.

In China, strict government control means that titles published or sold in the country should not be subject to censorship. Many bookstore entries feature books by or on Chinese President Xi Jinping, while the state operates its own chain of bookstores nationwide.

Locals read books at the Xinhua Bookstore in Handan, Hebei Province, China, June 13, 2021.

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Businesses that call themselves bookstores continued to open.

More than 40,000 new bookstore-related businesses have registered in the country each year since 2017, according to Qichacha, a business database. For this year through November, 39,000 new bookstore businesses have registered – a 6% year-over-year increase, according to the data.

Those openings still exceed the annual closings of about 10,000 or more bookstore-related businesses, the database showed.

A model walks the runway for Chinese designer Wang Dongyang’s LEDIN collection runway during Chinese Fashion Week 2020/2021 A / W Collection at Page One Bookstore on May 6, 2020 in Beijing, China.

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However, bookstores have never been an easy business in the digital age, and major bookstore chain Yanyouji’s financial struggles this fall have sparked discussions online about the future of photogenic bookstores. It reflects the difficulties of running a business even after it gains traction on social media, and is emblematic of a trend in China’s rapidly growing consumer market.

Of the 46 Chinese consumer brands that emerged in 2018, only 17 are still doing well this year, analysts at Bain and Kantar Worldpanel found in a report released this month. In makeup, 30% of brands that entered the market in 2016 were discontinued, according to the report.

In recent years, new Chinese mainstream brands have tended to use online e-commerce channels and social media to get a first wave of traffic, Deng said. He noted that digital data on consumer trends helps new brands test and adapt their products quickly.

A preview of TSUTAYA Bookstore on March 29, 2021, Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province, China.

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But it’s harder for these newcomers to find a second channel for growth, which typically requires expansion into the more complicated world of physical stores and local distribution, Deng said.

“What has always been lacking is that once you recruit [consumers] once you’ve got them to buy your product for the first time, how can you make sure they continue with you? “, did he declare. “Repeat buy rate has become one of the most important factors for these rebellious brands to move from the first wave of success to more sustainable growth. “

For a novelty bookstore, that means photo takers are coming back and spending money, even when retail sales have been slow.

Some bring in specialty supermarkets, hairdressers and events with book authors to create a community that can meet the needs of an entire family or those of a specific demographic, JLL’s Zhu said. “From my perspective, I believe the bookstore can survive,” he said. “They can survive depending on their changing strategy to adapt to the changing retail market. “

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