By Xinhua writers Liu Wei and Nick Yates
BEIJING, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Beijing-based bookworms can now become night owls with the opening of the city's first 24-hour book store.
Sanlian Taofen Bookstore (STB) in Dongcheng District on Tuesday expanded its opening hours, to the joy of people like 31-year-old Li Ying.
Li spends most of her evenings and weekends engrossed in all kinds of page-turners on the high street, but is forever worried about closing time. "Every time I get kicked out, I feel frustrated," she said. "Now, I finally have a place to read to my heart's content."
STB, opened by SDX Joint Publishing Company (SJPC) in 1996, displays 80,000 titles across 1,500 square meters, and is one of Beijing's cultural landmarks.
Fan Xi'an, president of SJPC, borrowed the 24-hour concept from Taiwanese retail chain Eslite Bookstore. "I was thrilled by the large number of readers found at night in Eslite Bookstore when I visited Taiwan in 2010," he said.
With Beijing recognized as China's cultural center, it began to pain Fan that the city lacked somewhere readers could indulge their passion for the printed word around the clock.
He proposed 24-hour service to the SJPC board in 2011, but the plan was scuppered by a lack of funds at that time.
However, the extra cost has now been covered by sponsorship from the central government and Beijing Municipality -- part of authorities' broader scheme to subsidize a total of 56 bookstores around China.
"We no longer have to pay value-added tax, and the government has announced 90 million yuan (14.6 million U.S. dollars) to support 55 operations like us," said Fan.
Alongside this government investment, innovative schemes like 24-hour opening may be needed if traditional bookstores are to survive.
Helped by rampant piracy, more and more Chinese are opting to shop online for books or read their novels as digital downloads. The number willing to go into a brick-and-mortar bookstore is on the decline.
There are still readers like Li Ying who come for the joy of reading and frequently make purchases, but "some just greedily photocopy the book and leave or simply find what they want in-store but buy it online instead," sighed Fan.
According to China's 10th national reading survey in 2012, Chinese aged between 18 and 70 years old read just 4.39 books on average per year, which equates to 15.38 minutes of reading per day.
"These numbers explain why 'reading' was mentioned in a government work report for the first time in 2014, and why we wanted to open a 24-hour bookstore," Fan said.
Based on research, STB found that people looking for entertainment at night have little choice other than bars or nightclubs. SJPC therefore hopes that the stores' night-time opening may prove popular.
One person who may find the extra hours useful is 26-year-old Wang Lu. "I come to a bookstore once every two months. My job takes up most of my time during the day, so I can't spare any for reading.
"However, with this 24-hour bookstore, I may find some time for quiet reading after a hectic day."
Arousing people's interests in reading is more of a priority for STB than economic gains, insisted Fan.
Though inspired by Eslite Bookstore, STB will not follow in its footprints by becoming a complex of bookstores, galleries, flower shops, malls and restaurants, but will focus purely on "providing the best books for readers."
It will, however, form a partnership with a neighboring cafe to allow books to be taken into the cafe and refreshments into the bookstore. "After all, laymen can never be professional," said Wang Yu, STB sales manager.
"I guess my husband will be excited by this combination. We'll invite friends to read at night together," said Li Ying.
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