Dymocks’ sad demise in Hong Kong.

I remember the words of an historian lamenting the progressive degradation of the society in which he was living in during the late Roman Empire: “In our schools the singers have taken the place of the masters of rhetoric. Libraries are shut forever, like tombs.”

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The same thing seems to be happening in Hong Kong, with the sad demise of Dymocks IFC Mall, an Australian bookseller, which shut all operations in Hong Kong on January 25.  But I suspect that the root cause of it lays not in the general degradation of the mores of our society and the barbarians pressing on the northerly border of the Empire.  The root cause of such phenomenon is, in my opinion, the growing cost of the rent which has become simply unaffordable for any normal bookshops’ operations.   In order to survive all booksellers have to transfer the price of the rent on the books they sell but the final result will be that their customers will order them online at a much reduced price. Online booksellers, like the Book Depository, which ship books by air without charging anything for the delivery cost, are having field days in Hong Kong.

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A secondary reason may be the growing popularity of the eBooks, which are handy and cheap but they fulfil only one of the three key reasons why we feel so attracted by books: that is the utilitarian part only, not the aesthetic nor the often neglected part which we call ‘the long term investment’. We buy a book because we are curious about its content but also because we love it as an object and as an investment. If it is an hardback, first edition and signed by the author it may fetch a considerable amount of money in a matter of years. If you want, say a first edition of Casino Royale signed by Ian Fleming, you have to be ready to pay close to 50,000 USD dollars to get a good copy of it.  If Fleming’s first novel was issued as a eBook, well, forget it! EBooks can offer to us just a few hours of fleeting entertainment but they are certainly not an investment and they do not embellish our library, transforming the hovels in which we live into a philosophers’ cave. EBooks do not give us all the tactile and aesthetically pleasing feeling which we get when holding real books made of fine paper into our hands.

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When waking up early in the morning, because of some fleeting troubling thoughts which are visiting us during the sleep and we walk into our library, then we’ll feel suddenly content and serene because of the magic impression of earing our books whispering. Indeed books are a balm for our souls.

Un commento su “Dymocks’ sad demise in Hong Kong.

  1. Greetings!
    How interesting.
    Like yourself, I move in bookish circles and await the arrival of the complimentary copy of the latest publication this week.
    However, I note that even former colleagues like to deal with Amazon, a form of comparative shopping on line perhaps, and order both hard and soft copies using this or similar services.
    Before Christmas, when browsing for books I noticed that one of the more popular shops had fewer customers than staff, and I was there for quite a while before selecting what I wanted.
    The prices, incidentally did not look that different and even with currency exchange taken into account I doubt that the overheads could be met given the profit margins. You are obviously more of a business-minded person so I may be wrong.
    Since we have a lot of travellers in Hong Kong the secondary market is thriving, so some would prefer to wait until a title is recycled at $10, rather than pay $240 or similar. The market is not just for students, also upper-middle class citizens who simply find it fun, a bit like shopping for bargains in a thrift shop, which also rewards the charities.
    I have a lovely, well handled collection of Graham Green novels bound in green, perhaps I told you the story already. I was shopping in the UK with my sister in law, she returned books and bought books in the charity shop, I browsed while she was busy and thought 2 pounds was a bargain. When I handed the sum to the cashier, she returned one pound and said that the pencilled price was for the previous sale, then the book was returned. How funny, but I enjoyed reading (or rather re-reading) those stories more than the new books from Swindon’s. Perhaps a case of the oldies and the goodies.
    By the way, if it is the same David Dodwell then he lives just down the street, we had a ’round robin’ discussion via email about the barrier along the road and Dodwell was one of those about to be affected by the restricted traffic. I believe it is his second home. In Hong Kong, I mean. He’s probably not very interested in recycled books – perhaps it is a female thing.
    Good luck with that free rent proposal (the charity stores generally run rent free, however, they are always on the move) and the overall plan to keep people reading.

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