Beijing's first 24-hour bookstore has been filled with night-owl bookworms, with the recent extension of its hours coming just before World Book Day, which falls on Wednesday.
Sanlian Taofen Bookstore (STB) in Dongcheng District expanded its operating hours round the clock on April 8, with staff members' undoubted fatigue rewarded with plaudits and boosted revenue.
Yuan Yue is one happy customer. The 28-year-old from Hebei Province welcomed having an alternative venue in which to read. "It provides a better place to spend the long night than at home," said Yuan.
STB, opened in 1996, displays 80,000 titles across 1,500 square meters, and is one of Beijing's cultural landmarks.
Readers can now be seen sitting on cushions scattered on staircases of the two-story store, and the third-floor cafe is crowded with people reading their newly purchased books.
Da Na, a college student from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, stayed at the cafe till 3 a.m. with her friends. "Paper books can be marked and they have a feeling that no electric book can replace," she said of her preference for conventional reading formats in an era when digital tablets are becoming more popular.
According to Fan Xi'an, manager of the state-owned STB, it has sold more than 650,000 yuan's (105,519 U.S.dollars) worth of books since April 8. The annual sales volume was only 130 million last year.
"The popularity of the scheme shows potential to arouse people's reading interests," said Fan.
TURNING THE PAGE ON CHALLENGES
However, aside from STB's innovation, it cannot be ignored that book shops in China are generally struggling for survival as piracy and e-books give them tough competition.
In the 1990s, over 1,500 independent bookstores sprung up in major Chinese cities, mainly selling titles about politics and social science. But today, Beijing is left with just one of its major independent operators -- All Sages Bookstore.
Fan insisted that the dwindling does not necessarily mean people's interest in reading is declining, but that it is diversifying.
According to survey results published on Monday by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, Chinese people read 4.77 paper books and 2.48 digital ones in the past year, up 0.38 and 0.13 respectively.
The poll of 40,600 adults in 29 provincial-level regions suggested that some 50.1 percent of Chinese adults read digitally last year, up 9.8 percentage points from 2012 and the first time this figure has topped 50 percent.
Although there is a perception readers are switching from paper to screens, some old-fashioned reading habits die hard.
Xu Yuan, 33, has organized a book club since 2010. On social media service Sina Weibo, his club has nearly 350,000 fans, and it has built up more than 10,000 members by holding over 300 reading activities each year.
Xu pointed to the role the Internet has played in complementing enjoyment of the printed word. "The Internet provides a platform for communication, sharing and arousing thoughtful thinking among readers," he said.
Not that Xu's book club doesn't have its own fixed reading place. "We mainly read classic books there. Besides reading, one can find his or her soulmate in real life, and expand their circle of friends in the club," according to the bookworm.
In China, organizations have successfully used the Internet to provide broad forums for readers. Douban Read, a digital reading service launched in 2012, boasts more than 1.5 million users.
Dai Qin, head of Douban Read, considers the site a social platform that offers netizens more than "click, pay, read and share."
Dai points to Douban members launching a project to translate fictional works by themselves. "More than 200 netizens have registered online to translate a book. This is a new era of reading as people's reading habits are being changed by the Internet," she said.