Another bookstore closing — this one a major retailer in Hong Kong. The major overhaul in the publishing market continues as traditional, large book retailers are finding it more and more difficult to be profitable.
The impact of e-books and Amazon has certainly been slower in Asia than in the USA. There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this. Amazon doesn’t have the reach and muscle in Asia as it does in the United States, but that is changing. Amazon has Amazon Japan, Amazon India, and Amazon Australia throughout the Pacific Rim and South Asia. But vast swaths of Asia have a huge gap and many obstacles to overcome in order for e-books and e-readers to be readily used and available, as this paper from June 2014 points out: http://ala14.ala.org/files/ala14/ALA2014-SEA-Ebooks-paper.pdf.
Despite the lack of dedicated e-readers and the lack of commercially available e-books for purchase, traditional bookstores in the region are STILL closing down.
Right about the time Borders was shuttering its USA stores for good, a Malaysian company purchased the franchise rights to open Borders Bookstores in Malaysia. When Penang’s Queensbay Mall opened in 2007, one of the featured stores was Borders. It had a huge retail footprint with its standard books, music, and coffee shop. But within the first year of operation, it could easily be seen that the music portion of their store wasn’t making money. It kept getting smaller and smaller until the music was removed altogether. Skip ahead a few more years and they remodeled the store once again. But this time, they cut the store in half, making it just a fraction of its original footprint.
The Borders franchise here got creative and tried new things. They opened up a Borders Express outlet at another mall in Penang. This was a very small retail location – kind of like a teaser of their other store. This small location lasted only a few months before it was shut down.
Time and time again, bookstores in the region find themselves unable to remain profitable, despite the fact that e-readers and e-books are not popular here.
I can imagine that the future of e-books in Asia looks bright because there are so many markets to grow in and so much of the region is already extremely tech savvy. But that technology also underlines some of the problems which booksellers will have to deal with including a reading public which has its attention severely split between the myriad of entertainment options found on the Internet. Many bookstores will continue to struggle to stay relevant in the every changing technological revolution we are all a part of.