Book street takes a leaf from successful strategies in other global cities
Bookshop streets worldwide struggle in the era of digital reading, but the brick-and-mortar literary scene remains vibrant on one backstreet in Yangpu District.
Weide Road, a quaint offshoot near busy Daxue Road, has evolved into a thriving hub for bookworms, housing popular bookshops, including the renowned Fudan Used Bookstore, Yue Yue Bookstore and Mystery Books.
The decision by the district to turn Daxue Road into a pedestrian street on weekends has noticeably increased foot traffic in the area and given a boost to booksellers.
"I think it's a great idea to develop the book street and let's hope that the bookstores on that street are financially viable," said John Rogers, a US professor of finance and economics at Fudan University and nearby resident.
Rogers said there is nothing to compare with a well-crafted hard copy or paperback book. He said he likes walking into a bookstore and browsing, hoping to find something unexpected to buy.
In addition to its bookshops, Weide Road, a 162-meter-long side street off Daxue Road, offers the ambiance of boutique shops, record stores, vintage shops and other distinctive stores.
Zhang Qiang, the owner of the Fudan Used Bookstore, and his wife Zhang Qin said they were captivated by the peaceful environment. When a previous shop they operated was forced to shutter for an urban renewal project, they scoured new locations near Fudan University. Weide Road fit the bill perfectly.
The bookstore, now open for about a year at the new site, attracts both new and longtime readers. The store, spread across three floors, resembles an enlarged attic, where the sound of pages turning and the creaking of wooden stairs create a nostalgic atmosphere.
Shi Chen, with Zhang's encouragement, reopened his detective bookstore, specializing in detective fiction, and Luo Hong, an old friend of Zhang's, established Yue Yue Bookstore on the same street.
They coordinate their operations, offering bookworms a wide variety of genres and titles.
While the three bookstores provide a new hub for Shanghai's reading culture, they also face the same challenges as world-famous bookstore streets, such as London's Charing Cross Road, Tokyo's Jimbocho district and the riverside bookstalls in Paris.
All have suffered a decline in sales amid the rise of e-books, online retailers and digital reading platforms.
The latest Shanghai Citizen Reading Survey revealed that the digital reading rate among residents hit almost 94 percent last year. Audio books and video lectures have gradually become important reading methods for young people.
Jonathan Rosen, chief executive of United Book Distributors in Australia, said that "bookstores are changing into something that's much more experiential."
He said they have become "spaces of discovery" where readers can explore new authors and genres they might not have considered before.
Bookstores on Charing Cross Road in London have focused on building a complementary online presence to compete with the increasing popularity of e-books.
The bookstores in Jimbocho have adapted to the changing times by carving out niche markets. For example, many stores specialize in used books or rare editions.
To attract younger customers, the famous riverside book stalls in Paris have embraced new product lines catering to the changing reading habits of young people. They now sell comic books, graphic novels and chapbooks, or small, inexpensive booklets.
Bookstores on Leidsestraat in Amsterdam have focused on building partnerships with local businesses, such as cafes and bars, to create a desirable social environment for customers.
The Kaifeng Bookstore Street in central China's Henan Province, which once stood as a symbol of culture and literature for centuries, has seen a shift in focus from literature to cuisine, with many of the street's historic bookshops being replaced by restaurants and street food vendors.
The bookstores on Weide Road are keenly aware of changing trends and the need to adopt new strategies to flow with the tide.
They have optimized their premises and expanded business to include cafés, literary lectures and book clubs.
Yue Yue Bookstore has set up outdoor tables and seats with coffee and drinks to retain the patronage of teachers and students, office workers and strollers.
The bookstore has a multifunctional hall for cultural activities and reading sessions. It collaborates with online platforms to attract more readers.
"The pedestrian street helps passers-by slow their pace and perhaps delve into the leisure of reading," Luo told Shanghai Daily.
Her neighbor Zhang places a tricycle on Daxue Road every weekend, filled with old books for customers to read, exchange or take home free of charge.
"I hope more young customers and children will come to my store after the opening of the walking street," he said. "To encourage the thrill of reading is more important to me than my business volume."
Zhang said he is happy to see more than half of the patrons now are young people, whereas customers in the past were mainly older people and senior academics.
Shi from Mystery Books has also embraced the online realm by opening a digital store to sell creative merchandise. He said he has experienced a surge in customer traffic since the inauguration of the pedestrian street and is currently hiring additional staff.
He draws a lot of attention by creating a captivating "crime scene" puzzle on the pavement outside his store every week, inviting customers to unravel the mystery and solve the crime.
"I think the future of bookstore streets and physical bookstores in general is pretty bright, particularly if they can adapt to consumer demands for a different kind of retail experience," said Brian O'Leary, executive director of Book Industry Study Group, a nonprofit trade association that promotes the book-publishing industry.
He said creating environments where people feel welcome and can connect with books and other people of similar interest presents a real opportunity for bookshops to thrive.
"It won't be easy, but those that can figure out how to do this well will be successful," O'Leary said.