China Daily/Asia News Network
The interior of Librairie Avant-Garde, a bookstore in Nanjing, China. (Librairie Avant-Garde via The Straits Times/File)
Bookstores in China are using a new approach to get people to read－and buy their books.
Nine bookstores recently joined a book-sharing program in Hefei, Anhui province, after a trial that took place over a month and a half. That brings the total number of outlets to 10.
With a smartphone application and a 99 yuan (US$15.18) deposit, a reader can borrow up to two books from any of the 10 stores and keep them for up to 10 days free of charge.
"Readers just need to scan the QR code on the back of each book in the store to get everything done," said Mr Zhu Fei, a manager responsible for the book-sharing programme at Anhui Xinhua Media, a state-owned company that runs the bookstores. The Sanxiaokou Xinhua Bookstore launched the programme on July 16.
"Since then, more than 20,000 people have borrowed more than 100,000 books through the app," said Anhui Xinhua Media executive Huang Zhen.
But not everyone wants to give the borrowed books back.
A survey of 601 app users conducted by the company in late July found that more than 90 per cent of the readers said they may want to keep some of the borrowed books permanently, but they do not not want to visit the store again to complete the purchase, Mr Zhu said.
So, when the nine stores joined in August, the purchase of the borrowed books was made available on the app. "Borrowing also helps to bring down the risk of paying for a book you don't like," he said.
In an earlier interview with China Daily, Sanxiaokou store's former vice-head Bi Shengsi said the bookstore did not rely heavily on selling books for profit. "Selling cultural and creative products, like souvenirs, is more profitable."
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Book sharing has expanded to 120 franchised convenience stores in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Media reports indicate that each of the stores－has made about 300 books available to customers. Each book is charged at one yuan for one day.
Both borrowing and returns can be handled at any one of the 120 franchise stores via the WeChat app, according to a report in Hebei Daily recently. That service will be made available in more cities in Hebei soon.
Anhui Xinhua Media's Mr Zhu said businesses can contribute more to promoting reading among citizens. "Going to libraries is inconvenient nowadays, compared with visiting stores; and reading is getting more popular in China," he said.
"Library books are often old and not popular, while the situation in bookstores is totally different."