AT FIRST GLANCE, it may seem that Hong Kong's frenetic pace of life has created a generation that absorbs ideas and information by simply glancing at the news on television, surfing the internet and flicking through the occasional magazine. However, look more closely at how people spend their commuting time and lunch hours and you will soon realise the city is also one of studious readers and avid book lovers. Sufficient evidence comes from the fact that more than 639,000 visitors attended Hong Kong's annual book fair this year. That figure was up more than 20 per cent from the roughly 500,000 visitors last year, and was the best attendance for 16 years. Exhibitors estimated that overall business increased between 15 per cent and 20 per cent from 12 months ago. All signs indicate that the whole sector is undergoing something of a renaissance, a fact confirmed by several of the leading retailers. Cosmos Books runs one of the largest local bookshops and publishes its own titles. The majority of their customers are professionals and, like most other stores, they now have Chinese and English language sections. In response to general demand, they have started to stock more textbooks and titles for teenagers, areas in which long-established outlets, such as Swindon and its subsidiary Kelly & Walsh, have previously held an advantage. In the meantime, these latter stores are now selling more Chinese books to supplement their traditionally broad range of English titles. Amid rising sales figures, the international best-seller category leads the way. 'Generally, fiction and self-help books also sell well,' said Cole Wong, corporate affairs executive for Page One. Works of fiction remain popular for two reasons: prices have gone down and people again see reading as a way to unwind. In addition, efforts by employers and the government to promote continuous study and the need for self-improvement have created new interest and given a stimulus to sales. With the market experiencing a mini-boom, it was natural that booksellers from overseas would take note. Popular Books, a Singapore-listed company with 100 branches worldwide, has eight stores in Hong Kong. They plan to open two more before long, and are bullish about overall prospects. 'Apart from selling books, we are also trying to be a one-stop shop for culture,' said general manager Iris Lok. This has initially meant extending into the sale of stationery, music and educational CD-ROMs. Taiwan's Elite bookstore and Borders in the United States have successfully adopted this approach and Xinhua Book City, the newest book 'mega store' in Hong Kong, is trying something similar. Page One in Festival Walk has branched out in a different way by opening its own cafe in a bid to attract new customers. Mackie Study, a smaller store, is building a niche by focusing on books that deal with cultural subjects such as art, movies and the theatre within the Greater China region. They also organise appearances by new authors and sell concert tickets as a means of promoting cultural themes. One factor limiting possible expansion is the high rent being imposed by landlords keen to make the most of a strong property market. It is a potential problem for many retailers, even those not occupying so-called prime sites. For instance, Sino-Books, whose niche has been selling Chinese books imported from the mainland, has already experienced some hardship. 'Profits have been cut because of the increase in the value of the yuan and our higher rental costs,' a company representative said. Nevertheless, there is still a general air of optimism among those in the business. Various companies have plans for expansion and additional recruitment, which is good news for anyone interested in working in the sector. A consensus view is that potential recruits should have an outgoing and friendly attitude, be capable of dealing with any kind of customer and, logically, be book lovers. Specialist knowledge of certain topics can be an advantage. And, of course, would-be bookshop employees should be dynamic and hardworking. Applications are welcome from people with diverse academic backgrounds and different types of previous work experience. The large chains, such as Popular and Page One, make a point of offering their employees comprehensive, on-the-job training courses. KEY PLAYERS Store manager Assistant store manager Section supervisor Senior shop assistant Shop assistant /customer service staff/ cashier JARGON ISBN International Standard Book Number, a 10-digit code identifying the publisher and name of a book. Copyright page It includes information about copyright, publication history, the publisher, ISBN details and information about the printer. Jacket A wraparound cover usually made of paper, cardboard or plastic. Generally with an introduction inside the front flap and information about the author inside the back. Imprints Small publishing concerns that are part of a larger group. Mass-market edition A marketing strategy to ensure wide circulation by producing books in an inexpensive format.