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The Need for Read

2014-04-22 09:37 Global Times Web Editor: Gu Liping

Recent years have witnessed the shutdown of many bookstores as the growing popularity of digital books challenges their paper counterparts. However, several Chinese publishers are now opening bookstores on WeChat, hoping to directly market their books to readers via the most popular social media network in China.

On March 16, the new edition of A Bitter Journey Through Culture, a bestselling essay collection by well-known writer Yu Qiuyu, became the first book to be sold on WeChat. By logging into the shopping section of the app, users can click to buy the book for 28 yuan ($4.50), which is 10 yuan lower than in the bookstores; delivery fees are included in the price. Within three days, a total of 4,000 copies had been sold on the platform, according to its publisher Media Times.

Other publishers quickly followed. Huawen Tianxia of Cloudary Corporation set up a book-selling column on its WeChat account. In the virtual bookstores, works are categorized into new editions, classics and parent-child books.

But why would the average consumer change his or her shopping habits - from buying books via e-commence platforms such as Amazon and Dangdang to purchasing through WeChat bookstores instead?

"The e-commerce platforms offer a large variety of books, but WeChat bookstores emphasize short notifications to readers about selecting books on a particular topic each time," said Xu Laisi, a marketing executive with Huawen Tianxia.

For example, the Black Swan, a book brand under publisher Beijing Xiron Books, is designed to directly market their books on the theme of "helping young people grow" to their young followers.

Other services have been integrated to help promote books. In the account earmarked to promote writer Chen Danyan' new work My Travel Philosophy, users can access travel information for the café and museums that Chen mentions in the book.

"There have been so many public accounts on WeChat. One account will be quickly forgotten if it is not designed for a well-known book or writer," said Zheng Zhong, director of Zhejiang Literature & Art Publishing House.

For publishers, another advantage of operating a WeChat bookstore is that they can set book prices or discounts themselves. They can also interact directly with users - for example, collecting users' opinions on how to design a book cover or how to edit certain parts.

However, the potential of the WeChat bookstores is still unknown, with some arguing that the ultimate problem behind the downturn in the Chinese book market is that people are no longer interested in buying physical books when they can download the digital versions for free or at low cost from the Internet.

Zhang Lixian, chief editor at Duku, a series of magazine-books, said, "In the first month after establishing our WeChat bookstore, sales volume was moderate. It's only a supplement to the Taobao store."

Ren Xiang, an expert with digital publishing, told China Publishing and Media Journal, "WeChat provides a social networking platform that publishers can take advantage of, but the problem of China's book market is not a lack of business models but rather the lack of buying power."

Individuals have also started selling books via WeChat. According to a

report on Strait News, based in Fuzhou in Fujian Province, some university graduates moved their used book bazaar from campus onto WeChat this year. A quick search on WeChat yields about ten secondhand bookstores. When you follow an account, it will send you a book list. Meanwhile, users can also publish their requests for books via the account.

China Youth Daily-Global Times

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