Wed, Jan 19, 2000 - Page 18 News List

Taiwan's book sellers going online

By Sharon Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

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 -- -- four years ago. Commonwealth Publishing (天下遠見), one of the leading local publishers, recently set up an online bookshop this month. Silkera Network (新絲路) established last November.

"There is still plenty of room for online bookshops to grow in Taiwan," said Michael Chu (朱偉忠), president of Silkera Network.

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,, and, which is also operated by Commonwealth. There is also, run by Yuan Liou Publishing (遠流), and, run by Kingstone Bookstore (金石堂).

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 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 (韓昇臻), an official from Commonwealth.

"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. 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 (張秀明), marketing and public relations manger of Bookland.

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 (李玉華), head officer of media public relations for Eslite.

"Nowadays, bookstores also offer many services online bookstores cannot provide such as exhibitions and lectures," Lee said.

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