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Shanghai adopts measures to support bookstore business

The Shanghai Municipal Information Office held a press conference on February 28 to announce new measures Shanghai has adopted to support physical bookstores. The highlights of the press conference are as follows:

Kan Ninghui, deputy director of Shanghai Press and Publication Bureau.

The People’s Daily:The first group of bookstores for support will soon be published. What are these bookstores? Do you mean the 5 million yuan is the total amount of aid for one year? As each bookstore is different, how will you support them with subsidies? I’d like to know the statistics of Shanghai’s bookstores and how you are going to distribute the aid money?

Kan Ninghui:Shanghai currently has more than 3,800 licensed bookstores with annual sales totaling about 11 billion yuan. But there are also unlicensed bookstores inside some supermarkets and many chain outlets. So, according to our information, there are altogether 6,000 to 7,000 bookstores across Shanghai. Our aid program is not just to support one kind of bookstores, but to enable the entire book industry to enjoy healthy growth. We offer incentives to all book distributors who can apply for government subsidy. And we will select good ones to support.

We have earmarked 15 million yuan to fund the construction of the book distribution network. We will use 5 million of the fund to support small and medium bookstores. Most of the money will be used to subsidize privately-owned bookstores. The exact amount will be decided after professional evaluation.

Shanghai Evening Post:How long will this aid program last and how are you going to decide the length of this program? Regarding some of the city’s landmark bookstores, do you have any specific plan to subsidize them?

Kan:Starting from this year, we are going to spend at least 15 million yuan a year to support bookstores. By the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2010-2015), I believe the entire industry will be in a better shape, but the government will continue to fund its development to ensure people’s cultural life.

As for the landmark bookstores, I think they should possess these features: first, a delightful and distinctive environment; second, superior quality and rich variety of publications; third, good reputation for promoting book reading and academic works; four, a unique business model favored by academics, specialists and professionals.

Now we have many bookstores with distinctive characters, such as Luming Bookstore on the campus of Fudan University, the 2666 Library in Jing’an Villa, and Taofen Western Bookstore on Shaanxi Road S. They target different segment of readers and may not be very big, but they all have their own features and good reputation. They can be regarded as a landmark bookstore. We hope to see more such bookstores.

China National Radio:Nowadays, many people like to browse books in a physical bookstore. If they find a book is good, they’ll order it from an online bookstore. What’s your comment on this phenomenon?

Kan:It is true that many physical bookstores have become a place for sample reading, but I also have friends who like to buy books in a physical bookstore. There is no denying that online bookstores offer customers easier access to books and more attractive prices. I think such a phenomenon shall be viewed from two perspectives. First, the book industry needs a healthy environment to develop. No matter what low prices online stores can offer, it should not harm the whole industry because book publishing has a cost. We need to establish a pricing system to protect the book industry. If online stores wage a price war, the risks are transferred to the publishing firms and the price war will sap the industry of its productivity. So, we hope a new pricing system will be created to regulate the book market and to maintain a good eco-system of the whole industry.

Second, the fundamental difference between online bookstores and physical bookstores is the reading experience. We have just opened an official microblog on Weibo and a scholar posted that the physical bookstores make people feel the existence of culture. Our bureau director Fang Shizhong also said that entering a bookstore is like absorbing various elements of culture. It’s an experience that online stores can never give. Therefore, we hope that more and more readers will go back to the physical bookstores, while the physical bookstores will also make use of new technologies to improve their services.

Lianhe Zaobao:Online bookstores have posed a serious challenge to physical bookstores. However, I still noticed that your aid program also cover some online bookstores. Can you explain why?

Kan:We do support some online bookstores but they must meet certain conditions, such as being strong in innovation, with patented technologies, and offering new business methods for the whole sector. The physical bookstores, on the other hand, can also develop their online shops as have been done by Shanghai Book City and Jifeng Bookstore. We encourage physical bookstores to explore new media technologies to expand their business. In short, we support online bookstores so as to fill a void in the city’s book distribution industry, instead of letting them to erode the market of physical bookstores.