Fads rule reading lists in fickle city, booksellers say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:58pm


Running a bookshop in Hong Kong is hard in the best of times, but the fickle and unpredictable nature of the city's reading preferences makes it even more difficult, booksellers say.

Causeway Bay Book Shop in Lockhart Road has been plying its trade for 18 years, but estimating what books would be popular is becoming increasingly difficult, said the store manager who would only give her name as Cheng.

'People buy books to join a fad,' she said. 'Books written by celebrities were popular some years ago. Then it was pet books. Trends come and go quickly.'

Some of the books may not be particularly well-written, but when their topics strike a chord then that may be enough to give them a measure of success, she said.

Books that have been turned into Hollywood films usually appear on best-seller lists, but their stay may not be a long one. In 2009, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series about vampires was a top three item for bookshop chain Commercial Press. A year later it had dropped off the top 20.

Taiwanese author-director Giddens Ko Ching-teng, whose movie You Are the Apple of My Eye became the top grossing film in Hong Kong last year, had three books - one the novel the film was based on - in the charts last year.

Since the seven-book Harry Potter fantasy series ended, there has been nothing to match its worldwide sales of 450 million copies, according to booksellers.

Time is also a factor in book sales. Following the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs on October 5 last year, publication of his biography was moved forward five months to October 24. The book soon topped the charts. Books on investment were popular before the financial crisis in 2008, but interest has since waned.

One trend is books along the lines of gossip magazines that look at the rich and famous. They claim access to exclusive sources, but there is little of real meaning in their pages, says Lam Pik-fun, who has worked in small off-street bookshops found in buildings around the city for 30 years.

'A popular book can sell over 10,000 copies in its first year. Then it will disappear,' she said. 'The Nobel Prize for Literature was a benchmark for popularity of books. People would try reading them whether they understood the content or not. This is no longer the case.'

Comic-like books with few words sell well to readers looking for less demanding fare.

The 'Stupidity' series by local artist Maggie Lau has been popular for the past few years.

Japanese comic Shinya Shokudo by Abe Yaro, which looks at the lives of an eatery manager and his clients, is a recent hot pick.

'Its author has been in advertising for years, and knows how to grab his audience quickly,' Lam said.

Steven Luk, the general manager of Commercial Press, said health books were on the way up. The best-seller at this summer's Book Fair was about coping with insomnia.

'It has something to do with the ageing of population,' he said.