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Shanghai's bookstores have been heavily hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with most of them forced to suspend business. An expert says bookstores should diversify their profit structure to make up loss.|
An association aiming to represent the interests of China's physical bookshops, Shumeng, surveyed more than 1,000 of them in January and February. Its survey indicates that 99 percent of the bookstores polled say their incomes are below normal levels, and 926 stores surveyed have suspended their business. The report estimates that the real situation might be even worse.
"Currently, the business model of bookstores is very simple. They have to think about how to transform their business model and diversify their profit structure," said Ji Gang, a partner of Roland Berger Greater China.
The suspension of businesses due to the outbreak has forced bookshops to think harder about how to find targeted customers, how to connect with them and how to get them to spend money. The new ideas include promotional methods like livestreaming and online reading activities.
According to the statistics released by e-commerce giant Alibaba, the number of bookstores with livestreaming services is now five times that during the same period last year. And the number of online activities they've held has jumped more than 10-fold compared to last year.
A bookstore in Shanghai's Pudong district named "Duo Yun", had been closed since January 24, and just reopened on Monday, March 9. It's getting only about 30 customers a day now, a far cry from the 3,000 it could expect on an average day before the outbreak. Not surprisingly, its daily revenue has dropped from 50,000 yuan to 3,000 yuan.
To attract more customers, the bookstore is holding live readings in WeChat Groups and its deputy general manager Feng Jie says its numbers have increased significantly – to more than 500 people a session.
"The biggest advantage of sharing audio in a WeChat group is that people can listen to experts' opinions as often as they like. The readers first introduce the books, and then invite people to read some chapters. And last comes the interaction part, with experts answering readers' questions," the manager explained.
The bookshop has also taken its in-store showroom online with Chinese social media platform Weibo, and that has so far attracted more than 8,800 viewers.
Other bookstores are also moving their business online. A well-known one in Shanghai, Zhongshuge, has organized seven online livestreaming sessions during the past month. One attracted nearly 10,000 viewers and over 10,000 comments.
Ji expects the new business models triggered by the epidemic will carry on even after it ends.
"Even though this epidemic is over, people could still have psychological concern to go to some crowded public spaces like bookstore. So for bookstores, they still have to continue to develop and strengthen online selling capabilities. This is not only for this crisis, probably is good opportunity for them to do relative transformation," he explained.