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Picture books growing niche in China

With picture books growing in popularity as an element of family life in China, specialist stores have been opening in such major cities as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, as well as smaller centres.

Thriving outlets include PKBkok, Poplar Kid’s Republic, Senior John and YourBay, reports Hong Kong Means Business, published by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC).

Many retailers are taking an innovative approach, such as providing reading tutorials, parent-child handicraft workshops, traditional Chinese courses and even picture-book tours.

Most outlets are part of chains, like YourBay, which has about 600 branches in more than 160 cities. The business has doubled in size over the past two years. PKBkok and Senior John each have more than 300 franchisees.

Picture-book stores typically have a membership basis, and smaller stores can be managed by one person serving about 100 families. Revenues from book rentals are often supplemented by extra services, which also help maintain customer loyalty.

YourBay, for instance, runs a program designed to help build a family library for children three years and younger. It offers guidance on appropriate literature, as well as providing both online and offline consultations. It also runs workshops on reading difficulties and child-rearing.

Senior John offers free delivery for its online book-ordering service. Customers on a limited budget can read more at no extra cost.

Service via app

PKBkok also offers an online book-loan service accessible via a smartphone app. The group focusses on developing convenient bookstores that act as links between consumers and cultural/recreational businesses.

Poplar Kid’s Republic is a picture-book outlet in the mid- to high-end business district near Beijing’s East Third Ring Road. It is a subsidiary of Japan’s Poplar Publishing, which specialises in children’s books. There are branches in several other cities, including Shanghai and Shenyang.

The Beijing store stocks about 2000 picture books, more than 90 per cent of which are Chinese versions of Japanese titles. It has a “membership + retailing” model, with paid-up subscribers allowed to borrow a fixed number of picture books and accrue reward points entitling them to participate in activities organised by the store.

Poplar Kid’s Republic also organises weekend parent-child picture-book reading sessions and handicraft workshops. Other activities have included a winter hats party, a Halloween reading, and a scented bags workshop to mark the Double Ninth Festival.

One or two picture-book tours to Japan are organised by the brand each year, and young readers also have the opportunity to meet authors as special events. One tour last year included a visit to Tokyo’s Doraemon Museum, and a chance to meet a picture-book author from Nagaoka.

A new development is restaurants with a picture book theme. One such establishment in north Beijing has three sections – a dining area, a baking island and a story-telling/fun area. There are just 10 tables in the dining area, while the baking island is reserved for cooking lessons. The fun area features a book wall. A second outlet is planned.

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