Bookstores are using a new approach to get people to read－and buy their books.
Nine bookstores recently joined a book-sharing program in Hefei, Anhui province, after a trial that took place over a month and a half. That brings the total number of outlets to 10.
With a smartphone application and a 99 yuan ($15) deposit, a reader can borrow up to two books from any one of the 10 stores and keep them for up to 10 days free of charge.
"Readers just need to scan the QR code on the back of each book in the store to get everything done," said Zhu Fei, a manager responsible for the book-sharing program at Anhui Xinhua Media, a State-owned company that runs the bookstores. The Sanxiaokou Xinhua Bookstore launched the program on July 16.
"Since then, more than 20,000 people have borrowed more than 100,000 books through the app," said Huang Zhen, executive from Anhui Xinhua Media.
But not everyone wants to give the borrowed books back. A survey of 601 app users conducted by the company in late July found that more than 90 percent of the readers said they may want to keep some of the borrowed books permanently, but they don't want to visit the store again to complete the purchase, Zhu said.
So, when the nine stores joined in August, the ability to purchase the borrowed books was made available on the app.
"Borrowing also helps to bring down the risk of paying for a book you don't like," Zhu said.
In an earlier interview with China Daily, Bi Shengsi, former vice-head of the Sanxiaokou store, said the bookstore didn't rely heavily on selling books for profit.
"Selling cultural and creative products, like souvenirs, is more profitable," Bi said.
Book sharing expanded on Aug 26 to 120 franchised convenience stores in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province. Media reports indicate that each of the stores－called 365-24 stores－has made about 300 books available to customers. Each book is charged at 1 yuan for one day. Both borrowing and returns can be handled at any one of the 120 franchise stores via the WeChat app, according to a report in Hebei Daily recently－something that will be available in more cities in Hebei soon.
Zhu, the Anhui Xinhua Media manager, said businesses can contribute more to promoting reading among citizens.
"Going to libraries is inconvenient nowadays, compared with visiting stores; and reading is getting more popular in China," Zhu said.
"Library books are often old and not popular, while the situation in bookstores is totally different," he said.