The Eslite Corporation (誠品) is the latest retailer to announce plans to join the increasingly popular Internet bookstore business in Taiwan, though industry observers say that online bookstores are unlikely to replace traditional stores.
The book selling industry has seen a boom in online bookstores since Bookland started the nation's first online bookshop -- books.com -- four years ago. Commonwealth Publishing (
"There is still plenty of room for online bookshops to grow in Taiwan," said Michael Chu (
According to Chu, Taiwan's annual book sales are NT$44 billion and online book purchases account for less than 0.3 percent of the total. By comparison, online book sales account for 12 percent of total sales in the US.
"Sales of books purchased through the Internet will reach at least 10 percent by 2004," Chu said.
Currently, online bookshops set up in Taiwan include books.com, silkbook.com, and bookzone.-com.tw, which is also operated by Commonwealth. There is also ylib.com.tw, run by Yuan Liou Publishing (遠流), and kingstone.com, run by Kingstone Bookstore (
Most of these stores offer about a 10 to 20 percent discount over a book's retail price. Most companies charge delivery fees.
"The book market for the Chinese-language reader is huge," Chu said, when asked why he set up an online bookstore. Chu said that silkbook.com is setting up warehouses in Hong Kong and China, so their customers can get the books faster and do not have to pay expensive delivery fees.
The online bookstores in Taiwan generally have been set up by computer companies, publishers or bookstores, said Jason Han (
"It [setting up online bookshops] is a trend, every one is doing it, so dare we not do it?" Han said.
Online bookshops may be the trial run for the introduction of e-books for publishers, Han said. Onlines stores can help publishers set up a reader database and act as a medium to interact with readers, he said.
However, industry sources suspect that the creation of such companies may be part of the Internet frenzy.
Amazon.com Inc, the world's largest online bookstore, has lost more than US$550 million since it began selling books in 1995. However, its share price has surged from as little as US$1.59 in July 1997 to a high of US$106.69 on Dec. 10.
Online bookshops offer many services that traditional bookstores cannot. Limited by space, traditional bookstores can only offer customers a finite number of books inside the store, while online bookstores have an unlimited database, according to Chu.
Furthermore, customers can shop online bookstores 24 hours a day. "It is convenient for people who do not have time to shop," said Sophia Chang (
Despite those advantages, online bookshops are not likely to replace traditional bookstores in Taiwan, said industry observers. "People do not go to bookstore just to buy books. It is also a leisure activity," said Lee Yu-hwa (
"Nowadays, bookstores also offer many services online bookstores cannot provide such as exhibitions and lectures," Lee said.
And added Chang: "People can feel and touch books in traditional book shops."
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