Date
13 December 2017
Customers like to browse through books before buying, yet bookstores tend to seal their books for reasons like lowering cost. The practice is turning away book lovers. Photo: HKEJ
Customers like to browse through books before buying, yet bookstores tend to seal their books for reasons like lowering cost. The practice is turning away book lovers. Photo: HKEJ

This is how bookshops kill themselves

How would you feel if you were not allowed to flip through any books at a bookshop?

Unamused. That’s how I felt when I had the experience recently in Ningbo. The books were all wrapped in plastic, so I ended up buying nothing.

Of course, I could ask a shop assistant to remove the wraps but it would be very troublesome.

The packaging just completely ruined the spirit of visiting a bookshop, and frankly speaking, I have never been that frustrated.

I bet no one would like to walk into a bookshop where you couldn’t read.

I thought it was just a petty regulation by some mean shop owners but I was wrong.

Eslite in Causeway Bay — the first Eslite bookstore outside Taiwan — has a similar practice. Surrounded by many books in plastic wraps, I found myself helplessly standing in the middle of the bookstore. 

It would have been understandable if the books were expensive copies of some limited editions but I was merely looking at some general books that cost about HK$100.

I decided to leave empty-handed.

I told my wife about my frustrations. It turned out she had similar experiences with numerous bookstores. In once instance, she was attracted by a title at a Page One store and bought the book without knowing what was inside. Money and book wasted.

Bookshops are going down killing themselves.

Industry people from printing and publishing have been groaning over poor sales since the public began taking to the internet. Not least, they also face keen competition from e-books.

As for bookshop operators, the greatest threat comes from online bookshops.

Even for big operators like Eslite, selling books and magazines alone cannot generate enough profit to stay in business.

That said, operators should work harder to attract customers, especially the younger generation, and let them enjoy reading books at their stores.

It blows my mind that operators instead keep upsetting book lovers and killing their mood. Would you like to visit a shop where half of its stock is sealed?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 3

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/FC/RA

HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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