Text by Yin Xing
On March 14, 2012, the venerable 244-year-old Encyclopedia Britannica announced that it will no longer print its hardcover sets, once a necessity of status and taste in every middle-class family around the world.
At present, traditional publishing tycoons have to adjust their sales due to the impact of digital publication on the contemporary market. But to China’s small bookstores, the change is leading the way to bankruptcy. According to the statistics of Book Industry Association of All-China Federation of Industry & Commerce, more than 10,000 bookstores have closed since 2007. In the past decade, half of private bookshops in China have gone bankrupt, and over the last five years, no new bookstore brands have appeared. This trend shows no signs of stopping.
Bookstore vs. Internet
Thanks to the spread of the internet and easy distribution of e-books, reading is not confined to traditional methods and can be enjoyed on cell phones, computers and digital readers. The cost of new reading material has been reduced to next to nothing, and occasionally books are free when downloaded via the internet. The new experience of audio and video effects provided by digital books converts more people to pixels rather than paper.
Surveys by China’s General Administration of Press and Publication showed that readers of traditional paper publications have fallen at the rate of 12 percent every year over the past three years. On the contrary, the audience for new media has increased at the speed of 30 percent per year a trend especially obvious in young and intellectual reader groups.
Offering great variety, shopping convenience, and low prices, online bookshops pose even a bigger threat to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. “Bookstores on the internet don’t need to pay rent, while private bookshops don’t enjoy this advantage,” illustrates Zhou Zhengbing, deputy director of Culture and Communication School of the Central University of Finance and Economics. “At present, physical bookstores stock books with an average markup of 36 percent. After removing labor, rent, water and electricity fees and tax, little profit remains. Losing money is normal.”