Despite the warm reception from Hanoians during its opening weeks, Hanoi’s designated book area on 19/12 Street is facing a decline.
Following the success of Saigon’s Nguyen Van Binh Book Street, Hanoi authorities started planning the capital’s own version in August 2016. Initially, a few locations were considered, however, officials eventually decided on 19/12 Street (formerly Am Phu Market).
Flash forward a year later, and the capital launched its book street on May 1 during the extended holiday. Tuoi Tre reports that the turnout was heartening, as thousands of Hanoians hit the street to celebrate its opening.
However, just six months later, the street is apparently facing rapid decline. Recently, a few publishers with stores on the street officially filed a complaint to the management team seeking immediate measures to keep their stores afloat.
The complaint states that during the first few months, the book street had a boost in sales and visitors thanks to extensive media coverage, bringing in some VND125 million per month per kiosk. However, since the support tapered off, the book stalls are not doing well, with each only earning around VND50 million monthly.
The publishers also hope that the city chimes in to help with maintenance costs for flowerbeds, benches and other public amenities in the vicinity of the street.
The book street’s recession can be attributed to many issues that representatives from publishers and experts have pointed out to Tuoi Tre.
Some blame the book zone’s location for the waning interests among visitors, saying that – unlike some seasonal book fairs held near Hoan Kiem Lake’s pedestrian area – 19/12 Street is smack-dab in an area that isn’t ideal for walking.
Tran Phuong Thao, deputy director of Thai Ha Books, also explained why fewer publishers are organizing events on the street.
“Any organization hoping to hold an event at the book street must rent equipment like amplifiers, lighting sets, stages, etc. These usually cost a total of VND7 million,” Thao told the newspaper. “On average, publishing a book for the first time and selling around 2,000 copies can only make ends meet. The profit for the second edition is only VND4 million, how could publishers shore up enough financial resources for book events?”
A few experts opine that Hanoi’s book street is too narrow, with limited space for activities to foster a reading culture.
The book street is mostly empty at the moment, save for a few young Hanoians taking photos. Photo by Phuong Chinh via Tuoi Tre.
“Coming to Nguyen Van Binh Book Street [in Saigon], people can relax, be entertained and immerse in a culture ambiance,” critic Pham Xuan Nguyen said. “However, Hanoi’s book street still hasn’t succeeded in creating such atmosphere. We need to transform the street into a space that promotes a reading culture.”
At the moment, Hanoi authorities haven’t responded with any concrete solution, but many are lobbying for the city to establish a non-profit company to govern book street matters. The company would be run by experts with sufficient knowledge on books and publishing to best serve the book street’s day-to-day operation.
Written by Saigoneer.