A corner of the Yanjiyou Bookstore in the upmarket commercial district of Xintiandi in Shanghai. Expanding the experience of customers has been key to the company's business philosophy. (Photo/China Daily by Gao Erqiang)
Private investment is helping to fuel the boom in newlook Chinese bookstores.
Cultural events, book launches and "public readings" are changing the landscape of an industry that looked to be in decline.
"Social investment in the bookstore sector is a trend," said Peng Weiguo, vice-director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Press and Publication during the city's book fair in August.
"This is helping traditional bookstores develop into diverse, colorful (places)," he added.
Last month about 40 bookshops in Shanghai hosted an array of events during the book fair. These included the launch of new titles and "reading events".
Yanjiyou Bookstores was one of the "branch venues" for the fair.
Part of the privately-owned Yanjiyou Culture Communication Co franchise chain, it has eight shops in Shanghai and 30 across China.
By the end of the year, it plans to open another two stores in the city and increase its presence in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and Nanjing in Jiangsu province, as well as the major Pearl River Delta cities.
Expanding the experience for customers is key to the company's philosophy.
"Consumers want more than just books from us," said Zhou Juan, general manager of Yanjiyou in East China.
Originally known as "Reading Today", the company started as a community book rental business in Sichuan province.
Under threat from online rivals, it made the strategic decision in 2008 to go upmarket by moving into shopping centers.
In the past few years, Yanjiyou has teamed up with commercial real estate developers to open outlets in malls dotted around urban China.
Back in 2015, the company set up a store in the upmarket commercial district of Xintiandi in Shanghai.
While bookshelves cover the walls from floor to ceiling, the 500-square-meter store has a coffee bar and a leisure area that can be transformed into a lecture hall.
Like many other bookshops, Yanjiyou also sells cultural and lifestyle items, such as imported hand drip coffee pots.
"Book sales alone can not guarantee the survival of a bookstore," said Zhou. "In fact, sales take up around 40 percent of the business volume."
To cater for these "lifestyle" customers, Yanjiyou has opened a series of much larger outlets of 3,000 sq m as it diversifies its business model.
"We have a bigger activity area in the large stores," Zhou said. "We can have handicraft workshops, galleries, photographic studios and florists, which are all about art, culture and lifestyles."
The Mix Place in the Hengshanfang area of Shanghai is smaller but just as active. In 2016, it hosted 91 events, including art exhibitions, design shows and film nights.
Linghu Lei, manager of the Mix Place, has turned the shop into a culture center for the city's art lovers.
On weekends, the store stays open until midnight because "a large number of our clientele are night owls, who feel free at night".
In Shanghai, the city's cultural administration departments regularly host meetings with bookstore managers.
"They (the government) help to channel and bridge different sectors, and introduce policies and resources we can directly benefit from," Zhou said.
Naturally, book launches have proved incredible popular. Feng Tao and his colleagues at the Shanghai Translation Publishing House have put on a variety of events for Yanjiyou Bookstores in major cities across the country.
During the Shanghai Book Fair, Feng launched the complete translated works of George Orwell, the English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, who wrote Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Down and Out in Paris and London.
His works were first published in the 1930s and 1940s.
"It is common practice for book events to take place in bookstores which have a reading space or cafeteria," Feng said.
"They usually let authors and editors use the space free of charge, as long as they trust the reputation of your institution and the quality of your books," he added.