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Hong Kong economy

German publisher Taschen enters Hong Kong market with first Asian bookstore – and a Ferrari book costing HK$250,000

Company hopes its books-only business model, featuring special and limited-edition offerings, will help differentiate it from rivals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 9:11pm

A German publisher has swum against the tide by opening a bookshop in Hong Kong – its first in Asia – with a game plan for success in a battered industry that includes a book costing HK$250,000.

The pricey collector’s item from the new Taschen store is a compilation of previously unseen photographs, drawings and sketches from the Ferrari archives and private collectors, detailing the main characters and milestones in the Italian carmaker’s history from its founding in 1947.

For the full price, which would pay for a four-seater Volkswagen in Hong Kong, the buyer will take home a book sealed with the Ferrari horse logo tucked in an aluminium case that sits on a sculpture evocative of a 12-cylinder racing car engine.

The book on its own costs HK$47,000 (US$6,000).

The 1,700 sq ft store is located at the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, a cultural preservation project occupying the former Central Police Station compound in the heart of the city.

Marlene Taschen, 32, managing director of the business set up by her father, Benedikt Taschen, in Cologne in the 1980s, said Hong Kong would serve as the company’s barometer, helping it decide where in Asia it would go next.

“When I came to Hong Kong for the first time two years ago for Art Basel and a talk at The Upper House [hotel], I liked it so much, and a historic building like this in Central is a perfect location,” Taschen said on Tuesday.

“We want to make the Hong Kong store a success first before going to the next market in Asia.”

The company’s Asian venture, its 14th bookstore worldwide, is entering a difficult market.

The city’s bookstores have been struggling with high rents and labour costs as well as competition from e-books, with established local chain Page One ending its 18-year history by closing its last store in 2016.

Australia-based Dymocks, once the city’s largest English-language bookshop, went under in 2015.

What’s killing Hong Kong bookstores?

Taschen said the publisher had a business model that would help it differentiate itself from rivals.

Local bookstores commonly offer lifestyle goods and stationery to generate extra revenue, but books will be the sole product at Taschen.

The size of Taschen’s offerings varies from handheld volumes to books as large as a dining table when unfolded, with prices ranging from HK$100 (US$13) to about HK$250,000 (US$29,000) for the Ferrari collection.

Some of their books weigh as much as 30kg and have to be delivered.

“We publish books on the same subject in different sizes and editions so that all people can afford them,” the managing director said.

“Our books are all image-driven, and we have no books with text only.”

Central Police Station restoration: how heritage project overcame the odds

Mariana Kou, CLSA’s head of China education and Hong Kong consumer research, said the internet had changed the game for the book industry by allowing consumers to check for the best prices instantly.

Limited or special editions would attract book fans, especially when the stores were in unique locations associated with particular interests such as museums and art galleries, she said.

“These books can become collectibles,” Kou said. “Interestingly, there is a new transformation with Amazon opening physical bookstores.

“I am optimistic about the book industry.”