Viet Nam News
HÀ NỘI — There is a huge difference between the milling crowds in HCM City’s Book Street and the lack of people in the Hà Nội equivalent in a short street simply called December 19.
HCM City has just commemorated the second anniversary of its Book Street in Nguyễn Văn Bình Street by selling a total of 1.2 million books for a total of VNĐ67 million in two years. More than four million people flocked to the locale in that period.
Statistics from publishers with stores in the street say that in 2016 about 500,000 books were sold for the whole year. Last year that jumped to 746,000 books.
Quách Thu Nguyệt, director of MTV Street Book Company, said she loved the location.
“Nguyễn Văn Bình is a short street with few vehicles and is well away from residential areas. It is right in the centre of the city and next to architecture heritage,” she said. “The location is a crucial factor in the success of the street.”
Sương Thanh Hoài, from Nhã Nam Culture and Communications Company, said the southern city’s Book Street was a successful model.
“The space for books is well-organised and there are abundant activities and exhibitions,” he said, “In terms of business, although the income of companies varies throughout the year, the final tally is encouraging."
HCM City has many writers and artists, which makes it ideal for book launches.
In 2016, 100 talks were held in the street and in 2017, this rose to 167 - an event every two days.
“I think the reason for the success of Book Street in HCM City and the deserted situation in its Hà Nội equivalent is people,” said Nguyễn Minh Nhựt, director of Trẻ (Youth) Publishing House.
“The HCM City development is a result of organisers who have spent much time and energy promoting the street.”
In the beginning, there were only 20 booths in Nguyễn Văn Bình Street and about 20 publishers, but then many quit.
“Each booth needed VNĐ500 million,” he said. “If the initiators were not well-known publishers like Lê Hoàng and Quách Thu Nguyệt, we would not have participated in the venture. My publishing house is mostly wholesale and therefore it is a sensible place to do business.”
People living in HCM City have a habit of buying things and using services more than any other cities.
For example, BHD Company has its main office in Hà Nội, yet it runs six of its eight cinemas in HCM City. It screens many films throughout the country, but the proceeds from HCM city account for 70 per cent.
Nhã Nam Culture and Communications Company, based in Hà Nội, sells more books in HCM City Book Street, which is in a convenient location, has friendly guards and an open design, which gives it an advantage.
Tourists, locals, children, and newlyweds often go there to relax and take photos.
Locals always stay up late. At 9.30 at weekends, there are still many people in Book Street. The street is also included in city tours for tourists.
“Book Street should be run by private companies, not the State because they can do it better,” said Lê Hoàng, deputy chairman of Việt Nam Publishing Association.
“HCM City’s Book Street is managed on a non-profit enterprise model, under the guidance of a leading team with proper management capabilities and enthusiasm for the development of publishing.”
The biggest effect of HCM City’s venture has been to inspire other localities to open their book streets. It has triggered openings in Hà Nội, Vũng Tàu, Huế, Đà Nẵng, Hội An, Quy Nhơn and Cần Thơ.
Cultural: Book Street has become a cultural centre in HCM City.
This year, the City plans to open another Book Street in Nguyễn Đổng Chi Street, Tân Phú Ward, District 7. The Street will gather 20 stalls and cafés.
Hà Nội opened its Book Street on December 19 last year. Đà Nẵng City has not completed its Book Street, planned for the corner of Bạch Đằng, Thành Điện Hải and Trần Phú Streets.
Hội An City plans to open its book street at 31 Nguyễn Thái Học Street by mid-year. The street will also exchange old books for foreigners.
The Book Street in the southern city of Vũng Tàu will open on Vietnamese Book Day, April 21, 2018.
The street will cover 1,900sq.m near Quang Trung Park, Ba Cu Street, District 1, Vũng Tàu City.
Hà Nội deserted
Meanwhile, Book Street in Hà Nội is not doing well. Nguyễn Cảnh Bình, chairman of Alpha Books Company, said income in the first two to three months was VNĐ200-300 million a month, but this had dropped to VNĐ70 million a month.
Many people have blamed the problem on the isolated location. “Hà Nội is famous for its old book area in the centre of the city - Đinh Lễ Street. It offers both retail and wholesale books at reasonable prices,” researcher Phạm Xuân Nguyên said.
“The street is located near a weekend pedestrian zone, which is convenient for people to relax and buy. However, the authorities ignored a popular place to set up a totally new book street.
“Besides, the new Book Street is not well organised,” said researcher Lại Nguyên Ân. “People going there should stand in common open space, where they can look and choose at books and relax at the same time.
“But booths at Hà Nội’s Book Street are closed like bars. People from outside cannot see bookshelves inside, which is quite different from HCM City’s Book Street,” he said.
Writer Đỗ Phấn complained that the prices in Hà Nội’s Book Street were too high.
“My daughter once bought a book, which cost much more than it would have in Đinh Lễ Street,” he said. “Since then, she has never returned." — VNS