There is still room for bookshops even in the electronic age
The closure of Page One is regrettable, but by adjusting to advances in technology, our stores can survive these challenging times
Reading a good book is one of the great pleasures of life, whether it be a classic novel, an acclaimed work of non-fiction or a gripping thriller. The reading of books is essential if we are to broaden our knowledge of the world and understanding of the human condition.
But these are tough times for those in the book publishing industry. The Page One bookstore chain shut its two remaining shops in Hong Kong last week, ending a presence in the city dating back to the 1990s. The closure was attributed to strained trading conditions. It is very sad to see the departure of another bookshop chain, following the loss of Dymocks last year.
The rise of the e-book market and the general explosion of alternative reading – and watching – material on the internet has created an environment in which traditional bookshops struggle to survive. It might not have helped Page One that it was seen in Hong Kong primarily as a shop for English-language books, which have more limited appeal to the city’s readers.
If bookshops are to have any chance of a future, they need to adapt and innovate. This is especially important in Hong Kong given the astronomical rents they have to pay. Taiwanese bookstore chain Eslite is well-known for redefining the bookstore business. It created a fanfare in Hong Kong when it arrived in 2012, offering 24-hour shopping. The company’s second store, in Tsim Sha Tsui, offers arts and crafts, jewellery and other products besides books. Despite its success, one of its executives has described every day as a challenge. It is not all bad news, however.
Sales of printed books have picked up recently in the UK and US as the novelty of e-readers fades. Consumers there have started to see reading a good old-fashioned book as being cool again. In Hong Kong, there is much potential demand from mainland consumers, not just for politically sensitive books but for other works too. Our city has a relatively high number of bookshops per person. By carefully considering their markets and adjusting to advances in technology, it is to be hoped our bookshops will survive in challenging times.