Bookazine, a family-run bookstore that has been selling English books in Hong Kong for thirty years, recently announced that its shop on Queen’s Road will be closing, another one of the many bookstores that have recently disappeared from the city’s map. 

However, one of the owners of the 30-year-old bookstore chain said that the closure was due to complications with the building, and that there is still a huge demand for books in Hong Kong.

“The landlord of the building is planning to demolish the building so all tenants (including a jewellery shop) have to move out. The landlord gave us plenty of notice so we have already opened a shop nearby on 46 Lyndhurst Terrace,” Bookazine’s Shonee Mirchandani told HKFP.

Bookazine. Photo: Bookazine via Facebook.

Overall, Shonee was not too pessimistic about the reading culture in Hong Kong. “On the one hand, I want to say people in Hong Kong don’t read enough and would rather play with their phones on the MTR or watch TV when they have free time. On the other hand, you just have to look at the sheer number of people who go to the [Hong Kong] Book Fair to appreciate that there is a huge demand for books here,” she said.

The bookstore, which sells English-language books, hosted Alistair Campbell, adviser to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, at an event in its Prince’s Building branch earlier this month. The family business was started by Shonee’s parents and is now run by her and her sister, Arti Mirchandani. Shonee said that a great deal has changed over the years in the English-language bookstore business.

Bookazine. Photo: Bookazine via Facebook

“There was almost no competition 30 years ago which is why my parents started [the] business,” she said. “At that time, only the expats shopped at an English bookshop. Today most of our customers are locals, who read in English and want to keep abreast of current affairs and popular culture.”

The business climate for bookstores which mainly sell English-language books has not been favourable over the past year. Three of the eight stores in the Dymocks chain have closed since 2014, including its flagship store in IFC Mall in Central, for which the company said it was paying HK$570,000 per month in rent and could not afford the further 35 percent increase. Page One’s Times Square branch in Causeway Bay also closed in February after 18 years of business. Meanwhile, Taiwanese bookstore giant Eslite is set to open its second Hong Kong branch in Tsim Sha Tsui in October.

Eslite bookstore bookstore in Hong Kong. Photo: Eslite and Wikimedia Commons.

HKFP readers respond
Some HKFP readers believe that the closure of English-language book stores is related to the decline of the English language in Hong Kong, attributable to the post-handover change in the medium of instruction from English to Chinese in some schools.

Others said that it was due to the rise of e-books and overseas online stores, which meant that books were available at more competitive prices. Some speculated that bookstores selling mainly Chinese-language books do not face the same problems, as it is often more difficult to find Chinese books in an electronic format or in online stores. Shonee also noted that travel books were declining in popularity as more people turn to the internet to plan their holidays.

“Many bookshops in [Hong Kong] did close last year, but I am sure if we look at the numbers then many restaurants and fashion brands closed too. The truth is that running any retail store in [Hong Kong] is tough – it’s a competitive market for retail space, rent and staff,” she said.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.