Feature: Taiwan bookstore bets on detective books to revive business

Source: Xinhua| 2018-07-21 22:27:17|Editor: ZX
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TAIPEI, July 21 (Xinhua) -- A human skeleton hangs on the wall above a creepy plastic baby head. A smiling female doll stares down at the customers from a high shelf. A gramophone blasts out eerie music amid the silence.

In Tommy Tan's "Murder Ink" bookstore, everything exudes a dark, mysterious vibe. The bookstore is located in a quiet alley in downtown Taipei and is one of the few bookstores in Taiwan focusing mainly on detective novels.

"I launched the bookstore because I wanted to help the detective genre take root in Taiwan," said Tan, 47. "I have always loved detective books, and it makes my life more meaningful if people can share the joy of literature with me."

Tan said he hoped that establishing a bookstore could help enrich people's lives.

"I thought about creating a bookstore where readers could communicate and make friends with each other, and authors could share their ideas and draw inspiration from each other," he said. "That would be my dream bookstore."

But his idea came at a time when brick-and-mortar bookstore businesses in Taiwan are struggling in an increasingly digitized era. According to a report by the People's Daily in May, in Taiwan's South Chongqing Road, where there were once more than 100 bookstores, now, only ten remain.

For Tan, even with all the classic books he has collected from around the world, the carefully decorated reading room, and the book discounts, public interest in traditional bookstores seems to be diminishing in today's digitized world. Tan said these days, his bookstore sometimes receives only one or two customers a day.

But despite the setback, Tan is determined to hold on to his bookstore.

"I think brick-and-mortar bookstores are unique and irreplaceable," Tan said. "It's a place where you can be inspired, enlightened, and create something special."

Tan said bookstores give people a unique experience in the world of books, something that e-books will never replace.


Before Tan started "Murder Ink," he was an independent documentary online editor. His real passion, however, has always been detective books.

"I have always loved experiencing the craziness in detective books and mystery novels," Tan said. "You learn about compassion, and you can find comfort in books."

"Every time I read the mystery genre, I feel like a detective myself," he said.

Tan has translated many detective stories, which further inspired him to create a detective-themed bookstore.

"When I launched Murder Ink, I had a small collection of second-hand books from Taiwan and the mainland, but I wanted to find more," he said. An elderly woman in Taiwan heard about the store, contacted Tan and donated her 600 plus detective book collection to him.

"We also decorated the store in a special way to attract more people, with items such as the plastic dolls, the skeleton, and the gramophone," he said.

But despite his efforts, business has been "tepid," he said. At the worst point, the store only made about 400 new Taiwan dollars (13 U.S. dollars) in two days.

"I remember we were making ends meet, and I had to sell one of the store's antique furniture to pay rent," Tan said.

Tan said that at this point of his life, it's no longer about making big bucks, but about living a meaningful and worthwhile life. The bookstore allows him to do that. "I would not be doing this if I wanted to make money," he said. "Plus, the bookstore helps preserve culture."


Tan said at first, he just wanted to focus on selling books, but discovered only selling books was not enough to keep the store together.

"To help the bookstore survive, we studied how to make drinks and beverages to make some extra money," Tan said. "We also rented our store to people making films or advertizements," he said.

Local authorities in Taiwan have caught wind of the brick-and-mortar stores' troubles and are subsidizing those sticking with the business, Tan said.

"We are also coming up with novel ways to promote the bookstore to attract more readers," Tan said.

"I often go on radios to talk about the latest books I read," Tan said. "We also invite book authors and readers to the store to share their ideas."

The store also sells some special items, such as calendars, fedora hats, and nail polish. Tan is also thinking about transforming the bookstore into a homestay, which offers accommodation, food, and books to tourists.

"I heard that some bookstores are even selling vegetables and rice, and some bookstores on the mainland host weddings to win back customers, which is great," Tan said.

"Essentially, the store is all about bringing people back to the world of books and enjoying a moment of life," he said. "I believe in the power of literature."

KEY WORDS: bookstore