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Young Chinese readers both hail and shun online book buying
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21:35, April 23, 2008

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For 20-year-old college junior Jiang Cuixiao, buying books online means saving time and money.

"I spend more than 1,000 yuan (about 143 U.S. dollars) on nearly 100 books a year. Online buying saves me at least 300 yuan annually," said Jiang, a student at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

"Online buying is so comfortable, as I can always get discounts and the door-to-door delivery makes me feel at ease," she said. "There are no such sales in bookstores and online buying is a lot cheaper."

But online book buying is unreliable, in the view of Zhao Zheng, an avid reader of 27 who spends half of his salary on books.

"I am not comfortable with online buying, as the brief descriptions on websites doesn't give me a comprehensive view of the books. I have to visit bookstores and browse part of the story before making a final decision," he said.

Zhao says he spends 40,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan a year on books. He said he had tried several times to buy online, only to find that the content was not what he expected.

"I don't buy books online now. The cheap price is an attraction but not everything. The descriptions of the books are short and sometimes confuse me," he said, flipping through a hardcover collection of Jane Austen's works at the Beijing Books Building in downtown Xidan.

The building was open for an extra hour on Wednesday to mark World Book and Copyright Day. Readers began streaming in as early as 9 a.m., when it opened.

Fu Ran, 25, joined hundreds of other readers entering the big reading hall. She said that she did not trust online buying and would prefer to browse in a bookstore.

"The books online are cheaper and probably I will try it someday. But buying online seems to be less fun," she said.

Although she's aware of the online competition, Zhang Zheng, deputy marketing director of the store, said she hadn't seen much difference in foot traffic.

"We get about 50,000 people per day, and on weekends and holidays, the number may exceed 70,000, which is pretty much the same as usual," she noted.

It could just be that with prosperity, more books are being sold by all types of retailers.

Xu Lin, public affairs manager of dangdang.com, one of China's biggest online book sellers, told Xinhua that in 2007, business was up by triple digits. Although she didn't provide an exact revenue figure, she said that in the first quarter, profits increased by more than 100 percent over the previous quarter.

Xu attributed the growth to wider public access to the Internet and a bigger choice of books.

"Some of the publishing houses have almost doubled the amount of their books and demand for student teaching materials is huge," she said. Books on management, science and lifestyles were also popular, she said.

But the cost of delivery is a challenge, she said. "We can not provide prompt service for readers in small cities or remote locations, which is a problem we have been trying to solve."


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