HEFEI, March 5 (Xinhua) -- Remaining closed for over a month, Paul's Pocket, a bookstore in Hefei, capital city of east China's Anhui Province, has dabbled in online reading events via WeChat, in an effort to mitigate the effect of the coronavirus outbreak.
"The epidemic is throwing a hard punch at the bookstore. Even if we resume operation, the revenue of the first half of the year will plummet and we may have to close down if we can't afford the manpower expenses and rental costs," said Zhu Sha, one of the founders of the bookstore.
The dilemma of Paul's Pocket is not an individual case. Many other bookstores across the country are facing the same difficulties and trying to shift their business focus.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores that once relied heavily on social gatherings have resorted to shifting their markets and services from offline to online, endeavoring to survive the crisis through new approaches including livestreaming and online selling.
Paul's Pocket launched its online reading events on Jan. 30 by inviting literature lovers and poetry scholars to share and discuss with readers on different themes.
"We have hosted four online events till now, with a total of 200 participants who only need to pay 10 yuan (about 1.43 U.S. dollars) to join the WeChat group," said Zhu, adding that it is helpful to strengthen connections with readers during this special period.
Compared with Paul's Pocket, Xinhua Bookstore, with 523 outlets in Anhui Province, has rolled out more measures.
According to Huang Zhen, manager of the business department of the company, they have launched over 20 livestreams introducing books to date, receiving over 100,000 views. Meanwhile, a total of 1,000 WeChat groups have been built to serve over 300,000 readers. "We also sell books via online platforms such as Weidian and disinfect the books carefully before delivering them to the customers," Huang said.
Data from the company showed that a total of 36,000 books have been sold in Hefei within the past 10 days.
Yanjiyou Bookstore, a bookstore chain with 62 outlets nationwide, has cooperated with the food delivery platform Ele.me in some cities to improve delivery times. Zhongshuge Bookstore in Shanghai has turned its bookstore into a livestreaming studio to introduce books online.
For Zheng Ling, manager of Fandeng Bookstore in Hefei, the epidemic outbreak has in turn forced the bookstore to innovate and also allowed them to take a step back and think clearly about how to move their business forward after the epidemic.
"We have been hesitating to make changes while the epidemic speeds up the transformation of the bookstore and urges us to make full use of the internet and social media to offer more services," said Zheng.
The ongoing self-preservation of brick-and-mortar bookstores has also gained the attention and support of the public. On China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, the hashtag "self-preservation of bookstores" has received over 11 million views as of Feb. 29.
On Feb. 24, OWSpace, a trendy Chinese bookstore chain, released a letter on WeChat seeking crowdfunding to support its operation, which sparked heated discussions online.
Sun Zeshu, a millennial living in Beijing, bought a donation package without hesitation and shared the letter on Wechat with a comment "Defend bookstores, the brain of cities."
"It's a great pity if the bookstore can not survive the epidemic. We are willing to do our bit to help them pull through," said Sun.