Thu, Feb 13, 2014 - Page 12 News List

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Taiwan’s independent booksellers play the culture card to boost their bottom line

By Tang Hsiang-yi  /  Staff reporter

Behre said she enjoys visiting independent bookstores in her US hometown and her current home in Greater Kaohsiung.

“I like the zines [small circulation of self-published work] and the cozy reading environment in indie bookstores,” she said.


During one of the 12 talks held at Indie Reader during TIBE, Hsia Chu-joe (夏鑄九), professor emeritus at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Building and Planning, offered ideas on how independent bookstores can survive in the age of the Internet.

Hsia said he shares TAIBC’s motive to introduce the cultural significance of independent bookstores, and that by forming a group, indie booksellers can come up with a strategy to buy books together in larger quantities to reduce the cost.

“As a repeat user of indie bookstores, I see how interpersonal relationships grow between the owner and readers or among readers, which doesn’t happen in large book chains or in online bookstores” Hsia said.

Hsia advises indie booksellers to explore the “experience economy” and offer interactive events for its readers that leave a lasting impression. Hsia cites Tonshan Bookstore (唐山書店), which provided access to banned books during the 1980s an example.

“Even the act of buying books excited people,” he said.

Hsia added that although one can find pretty much any title online, “you can’t find the cultural ambience unique to each independent bookstore when you buy books online.”

Le Pigeonnier, an independent book store specializing in French titles, has established a client base with regular cultural activities, including author’s talks, handicraft workshops and book discussion clubs.

“At first, we used French food as a ruse to attract readers. Now they come just for the events. Free food isn’t the point anymore,” said senior bookstore staff Amelie Sun (孫美麗).

Sun says a solid client base hasn’t sustained the 15-year-old bookstore financially, as it ran at a loss for the first 10 years.

“We capitalized on our niche: importing books from France, to get contracts with university libraries, academic institutions and basically anyone who may need French books,” Sun said.

“Business didn’t improve overnight. It took time to earn other people’s trust and build a long term working relationship,” Sun added.

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