Browsers brace for broadside of books
The opening of a new bookshop probably does not prompt people to read more. But the much touted arrival of a popular Taiwanese bookstore chain in Hong Kong is set to make a splash on the literary scene. Even before Eslite opened its door in the heart of a busy shopping district yesterday, local bookshops were already locked in a war of words over the impact this mega player will have.
Anyone who has visited one of Eslite's 50-plus outlets on in Taiwan will be impressed. Spaciousness aside, the shops awe customers with a wide selection of books. With cafes, eateries and an array of stationery, cultural and lifestyle products, the multi-storey flagship store in Taipei is arguably a must-visit destination for people who want to catch a glimpse of Taiwan's cultural life. Another draw is the round-the-clock opening for some branches, making them a sanctuary for bookworms during a sleepless night.
Well known for being receptive to novelties, Hongkongers are likely to embrace the new bookstore in a new shopping mall in the heart of Causeway Bay. There should be no shortage of customers during the 24-hour opening from Thursday to Saturday each week. After all, Hong Kong does not call itself the 'city that never sleeps' for no reason.
But like the city's 100 existing bookstores, the megastore has to brace itself for soaring rent in the prime tourist areas. The competition brought by the new giant is also threatening some upstairs bookstores, which currently specialise in books from Taiwan.
Last month, the annual book fair wrapped up with 900,000 visitors despite an interruption by a typhoon. A survey showed the respondents spent HK$1,654 on books on average over the past 12 months, with some 60 per cent having bought more than 10 books. It shows there is a promising market for newcomers. But whether the city's reading culture is to be revolutionised by Eslite remains unknown. It is to be hoped that its arrival will herald a new chapter in Hong Kong's literary life.