Our Desk | Where are Macau’s bookstores?

1111According to the International Publishers’ Association, China now has the world’s largest publication industry with over 444,000 new titles and re-editions in 2013, the last year for which data is available. But behind this growth is the sustained decline in book sales and rise in bookstore closures in recent years.
Many industry leaders attribute this decline to rent increases and the invasion of the market by online bookstores and the growth of e-readers. Indeed, across China bookstores have survived either through specialization in a niche, or through the subsidies of large shopping complexes. This is especially true for Macau, where only a handful of bookstores endure, and usually by offering an ‘indie’ selection of books or through targeting a particular demographic like Portuguese-language readers.
The population of Macau is sufficiently sizeable to support a number of bookstores, but the fact that few exist suggests a lack of interest in buying books – or worse, in reading at all. Anson Ng, owner of bookstore “Pinto Livros,” half-jokingly suggested that Macau’s casino connotations might have something to do with it, since the Cantonese word for “book” (書 , Shū) has an almost identical pronunciation to the word for “lose”(輸 , Shū)!
But reading may be even more important for Macau today, against the backdrop of the MSAR government’s intention to develop the creative and cultural industries of the region. This has been the policy since the conception of the MSAR government more than 15 years ago. In a paper entitled “Policy Address for the Fiscal Year 2001,” the MSAR government announced the “promotion of artistic and creative activities” partly through the “promotion of reading and writing.”
Anson Ng says that books are the cumulative sum of human knowledge. “We only have a limited number of experiences as individuals,” Ng said, “but through reading we can live more than one life.” Reading fosters an interest in accumulating knowledge and experiences, and in return, sharing them. It leads a person to want to host a show or performance, or to attend one. In this sense, reading is the crucial ingredient in developing an authentic producer and consumer class in creative and cultural industries.
The MSAR government has recognized that the top-down approach of solely providing subsidies and grants to cultural producers will not be sufficient to create a lasting and authentic cultural scene in Macau. The government has thus invested in complementary bottom-up policies to create the demand for cultural goods.
The Education Development Fund provides subsidies to schools to increase their reading resources. The policy aims to develop an interest in, and make a habit of reading in the hope of inspiring young people to read. The Macau Central Library also hosts a number of events, often inviting guest speakers to talk on subjects ranging from science fiction to music and art, and from children’s literature to philosophy. In October the library hosted a children’s reading promotion programme called “A Story Book Journey: Season 2”.
These are promising steps, but the MSAR government must ensure that they are promoting both books designed to give students a competitive edge, as well as less practical literature intended to broaden horizons and introduce new concepts essential to artistic and creative development.
With respect to the latter, nothing really compares to perusing a physical bookstore. The physical bookstore allows the consumer to have their interest peaked by a book on a topic that they have never considered. It is a random attraction to something seen out of the corner of our eye that often results in a cultivated interest or a lifetime dedication. And that is why we need bookstores in Macau. Daniel Beitler 

Categories Opinion