Second-hand Book Store in Hong Kong: Disappearing? Declining!

Iris YE

There are many posts of book stores on Nelson Street, Mong Kok. Photo/Iris YE

How many Hong Kong citizens are still keeping the reading habit? And how many of them are still buying books from a bookstore?

They decide the future of book business, and also the culture in this city.

“I’ve heard from others that it is not the modern facility, skyscraper or even the bookstore to decide a city’s culture, but the second-hand book store,” said Su Gengzhe, the boss of Sun Ah Book Center, runs his second-hand book store since 1968. “Because the people who are really love book and addict in reading would shopping in a second-hand book store.”

Mr. Su stepped into this business when he was 21 years old, and he said that is the golden time of this business in Hong Kong.

“There were nearly 80 second-hand book stores in Hong Kong at that time”, said Mr. Su. “And the income was high, so I could buy a shop in the 16th floor of a building in Sai Yeung Chio Street.”

He thinks the prosperity of this business because of the Culture Revolution which destroyed a lot of books in mainland at that time, so the world’s need of Chinese books were all focused on Hong Kong. Mr. Su likes to keep some book out of print, and that attracts a regular part of customers. So he finds an interesting phenomenon that he only has one female customer and the others are all male.

However, the best time of second-hand book business has gone. The numbers of second-hand book stores are declined to 16 in 2010, according to a research from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Even the Spirit Book Store which stars business since 1958 moved from Nelson Street, Mong Kok to North Point and Sai Ying Pun.

“The hardest time of my business was the period of SARS, and our turnover declined 90 percent because no one dares to shopping on the public place. We can’t afford the renting fee, so we closed the shop on Nelson Street,” said Huang Dacai, the boss of this shop.

Different from Mr. Su, Mr. Huang’s business is relayed on second-hand textbook. In his eyes, every book has its life. The classical book, such as “Dream of the Red Chamber”, has a long life and can be spread for thousand years. But maybe textbook is the shortest one. After the end of semester it’s useless for the students, but they can be recycling for the next grade. So the Spirit Book Store focused on this area.

“We earned most from the textbook,” said Mr. Huang. “But we have a biggest opponent now.”

The “biggest opponent” of Mr. Huang’s business is iPhone. Because it not only provides many free information from the internet, but also takes time from young people. While Mr. Su thinks the biggest problem of his business it’s himself.

As the development of technology, some readers are still retaining a remarkable emotional attachment to the papery book. It cannot be replaced by the cold electronic devices. So Mr. Su said the most important thing is to learn to do the business on the internet, as the young people spend too much time on it.

“I don’t think the second-hand book business is disappearing in Hong Kong,” said Mr. Su, “It’s just declining. And we should change ourselves. ”

Originally published at on May 7, 2015.