Selling more than books is key for bookstores' survival

RELAX AND READ: Customers enjoying their drinks at a cafe in the KaBoS Miyamaedaira bookstore in Kawasaki, Japan.


    Sep 06, 2016

    Selling more than books is key for bookstores' survival


    MORE bookstores across Japan are expanding the scope of their business by marketing other products and services.

    The move is an attempt to invigorate the publishing industry as a whole, including book distributors and bookstores.

    At 3pm on a weekday at KaBoS Miyamaedaira, a bookstore in Miyamae ward, Kawasaki, customers were seen reading books and chatting at an in-house cafe.

    "I can browse books here or take a rest in the quiet, relaxed cafe," said a 53-year-old housewife in the ward.

    As part of its renovation in 2014, the bookstore set aside one-third of its floor space for an area selling stationery, coffee and other drinks.

    The number of books at the store fell by about 30,000 from about 180,000 but its total proceeds, including book sales, grew by 10 to 15 per cent.

    According to the Research Institute for Publications, the estimated sales value for publications in the first half of this year dropped 2.7 per cent from the previous year, with no sign of a halt to the decline.

    The low profit margins of bookstores' main business is the key factor behind their efforts to branch out into other activities.

    The publishing industry is built on a low-margin, high-volume business model.

    Generally, 22 per cent of total gains from selling books go to bookstore operators.

    This business model has been sustained through sales of large numbers of magazines.

    But the Internet has caused a slump in magazine sales, putting the model in jeopardy.

    According to Tokyo Shoko Research, the profitability of stationery vending and coffee shop management is somewhere between 30 and 60 per cent. Therefore, combining the book business with stationery sales and cafe operations is a way to yield stable profits.

    In Japan, corporations previously unrelated to publishing circles have also begun adding books to their product line-ups.

    The key reason is that books share similarities with interior goods designed to brighten living spaces, helping to create a cultured atmosphere in homes.

    An example is Mujirushi Ryohin Yurakucho in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward, which sells household and consumer goods.

    The shop has about 22,000 books lining wooden shelves and other displays.

    Books linked to food are put near bottles of wine while those about clothing and accessories fill the apparel section.

    "(This arrangement) can encourage customers to pay attention to goods placed near the books," Yohei Shimizu, an employee of the shop, said.