A survival guide for brick-and-mortar bookstores

04 2018 | Issue 26
Text/Jasper Hou

Despite the small city scale, Macao boasts quite a number of physical bookstores with unique features, including integrated bookstores that have expanded their business to more than just selling books. Will such bookstores become an exemplar for brick-and-mortar bookstores that are seeking for transformation in Macao? Where exactly the future of traditional bookstores lies? In Feature, we have invited representatives from three local bookstores, namely Slow Tune Book Shop, Pin-to Livros and Wan Tat Bookshop, to share their take on these questions.

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Slow Tune Book Shop


Slow Tune was founded in 2016 by three partners. Challenged with the common difficulties in the industry, Slow Tune also found it very hard to make profits out of the sales of books. In order to increase the profit, the store’s operator Jeff Lou strives to diversify the bookstore’s businesses so as to appeal to customers with cultural elements. However, Jeff believes that bookstores still have their own value even though the world is seemingly becoming more detached from printed books. Slow Tune tries to provide customers with a space where they can slow down and enjoy books.


Providing an enjoyable space


Jeff is a designer himself and owns a design firm. Since childhood, Jeff has been addicted to reading, and it’s his passion for books that drove him to partner with his wife and a friend to start Slow Tune up. “People nowadays are always rushing to somewhere and browsing on the Internet has become the main way that people receive information. The name Slow Tune bears the vision to provide our customers with a tranquil environment where they can enjoy reading, as it has become quite a luxury to slow down and read,” Jeff said, explaining the meaning of the bookstore’s name. 


Jeff hopes to share his favourite books and products with everyone. Because of that, his taste is reflected in the products available in the store. Besides selling books, Slow Tune would also sell original cultural products and fairtrade products. “We sell fairtrade products in our store for the fact that there is a vacancy of such products in Macao, and that we want to bring the concepts of environmental protection and equality into our store. Sure, the prices are higher, but we get what we pay for. Good products always require better materials and crafters to make, inevitably increasing the cost,” Jeff said.


Sharing brings joy


In Jeff’s opinion, when the books and products are favoured by the customers, that’s the moment he feels most fulfilled. “It’s like every book we sell signifies a certain growth of recognition from our customers. It’s a really good experience. At present, our store’s customers are people aged between 20 and 30. We have also set up a Facebook page so that more people would have the channel to know what we are doing now. We make book recommendations every week to keep up the interaction with our customers,” Jeff said. 


“The rise of digital books and magazines does have an impact on brick-and-mortar bookstores. But from my own experience, there is no substitute for the feel of an actual book,” Jeff said. “When you are reading a digital book on a gadget, you will be annoyed by the brightness of the screen and be distracted by other apps on the device. It’s hard to concentrate and read. So, I believe physical bookstores still have their unique advantages. They can offer you a comfortable and quiet environment to read.”


Overcoming difficulties and attracting customers


To Jeff, promoting the bookstore to attract customers has been the biggest obstacle he has encountered so far in running the business. “Macao is a small market, so the cost of traditional promotions is too high for us. For SMEs like us we rely on online promotion, which, unfortunately, wasn’t very effective. Instead, we organise different cultural events, such as workshops for painting, paper cutting, and calligraphy, etc., trying to attract young people’s participation to build up our reputation and brand image,” Jeff stated. 


According to Jeff, logistics is a very important chain of the book business as well, as it directly impacts the sources of the books. “Books come in with quantity and they are very heavy. And to transport them the cost is quite high. We could only go with shipping. But freighters that ship books all go through Hong Kong, generating more cost for us. So, to small-scale bookstores in Macao who order a small number of books, it is hard to find overseas publishers to cooperate with. At present, we have forged partnership with four publishers in Taiwan and will look for more publishers to bring more books into Slow Tune,” said Jeff.


Cross-sector cooperation builds an original brand


In Jeff’s opinion, integrated bookstores will be the future development tendency in Macao. “The profit coming from books is quite low. So we need to use other merchandises or cultural products to diversify our business in order to cater to various audiences. I believe this is one of the mainstream directions that bookstores in Macao will go for,” Jeff commented. “Macao is a small market. Relying only on the book business is not enough for bookstores to survive.” 


In the future, Slow Tune will also try to cooperate with artists from other fields to design and produce local art and cultural products with different artistic elements. “My own design company can help integrate the design and production process. Some artists do not know how to transform their artworks into commercial products, and that’s exactly something Slow Tune can help them with. We can help them find the right way to present their works and sell them in our bookstore,” Jeff said.