Xinhua group explores ways to boost growth and improve customer service with internet-based ideas and style
Mao Jianping likes to pop into the Shanghai Book Mall and immerse himself in maps.
The 68-year-old usually takes a bus from the suburb of the city's Jiading district to the seven-story, downtown building on Fuzhou Road, which is owned by the Xinhua Bookstore Group.
Mao can usually be found on the ground floor in the tour guides and geographical area next to books on cooking, pet care and gardening.
"I like to locate the places I used to visit," he said as he glances up from a map of the Yangtze Delta region. "I've been to many parts of the country and have lots of good memories."
Mao often spends hours there, looking for historical and geographical titles.
But then he is not alone. Traditional bookshops are going through a renaissance in China.
The country's largest State-owned franchise, Xinhua Bookstore Group, is thriving after substantial financial support from the government.
During the past few years, 500 million yuan (.96 million) has been injected into the sector.
More than 300 million yuan was used to renovate and expand Xinhua bookstores nationwide, according to Zhou Huilin, deputy head of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and TV, at an annual forum during last month's Shanghai Book Fair.
"Xinhua Bookstore can play a positive role promoting the nation's development theory and strategic policies, as well as providing spiritual food for readers," said Liu Qibao, head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
Value Added Tax, or VAT, on hard copy books will be waived, saving the sector 5 billion yuan in another major move to breathe new life into the industry.
Modern business models and new locations were also discussed as representatives from 31 city branches of the Xinhua Bookstore Group chatted about trends at the forum.
"The comeback of (traditional) bookstores has been an obvious (success) in Shanghai, as well as other parts of China," said Peng Weiguo, vice-director of the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Press and Publication.
More than 20 new stores have opened, or will open, there this year.
In Shenzhen, there are four Xinhua bookstores with another one under construction. During the next five years, five more stores are planned.
"We will have a large Xinhua bookstore in every district and a small (one) in every community," said Chen Xinliang, head of Shenzhen Xinhua Bookstore. "New outlets will be funded by local government and Shenzhen Xinhua Bookstore."
The high-tech manufacturing city in Guangdong province already has 27 small Xinhua community shops, which offer free services for children, along with its traditional retail business.
"Students leave school at 4:30 pm, so we provide various activities for them until 6:30 pm when parents can pop in and pick them up," Chen said.
Local government support means rent, power, water bills and management fees for these stores are picked up by the authorities.
In a bizarre twist, the retail market for traditional books has enjoyed 10 percent annual growth in the past few years.
Overall sales grew by 12.3 percent in 2016, although bookshop purchases dropped by 2.23 percent, data released last month by Open Book Information Technology highlighted.
Last year, China's book retail market totaled 70.1 billion yuan with online sales accounting for 36.5 billion yuan and traditional stores raking in 33.6 billion yuan.
"(Traditional) bookstores are still facing great challenges," said Zhang Lin, deputy manager of the Xinhua Bookstore in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province.
To cope with the situation, the shop is developing innovative ideas.
Back in 2014, Heilongjiang Xinhua Bookstore opened Gogol shops in Harbin, capital city of the province.