BEIJING • A new chapter has opened for bookstores in China.
In a bid to get more people to read and buy books, nine bookstores recently joined a book-sharing programme started by another shop in Hefei, Anhui province, after a trial that took place over 11/2 months.
With a smartphone application and a 99 yuan (S$20) deposit, a reader can borrow up to two books at a time from any of the 10 stores and keep the titles 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 initiative 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 return the borrowed books. A survey of 601 app users conducted by the company in July found that more than 90 per cent of the readers said they may want to keep some of the books permanently, but do not want to visit the store again to complete the purchase, Mr Zhu added.
So when the nine stores joined the programme last month, 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, such as souvenirs, is more profitable."
Book-sharing is now also available at 120 franchised convenience stores in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Media reports say each of the stores has made about 300 books available to customers. The cost of borrowing a book is one yuan a day.
Both borrowing and returns can be handled via the WeChat app, Hebei Daily reported recently.
That service will be made available in more cities in Hebei soon.
Mr Zhu said businesses can do more to promote reading among the public. "Going to libraries is inconvenient, compared with visiting stores, and reading is getting more popular in China," he added.
"Library books are often old and not popular."
CHINA DAILY / ASIA NEWS NETWORK