Step into the Popular Bookstore in the top floor of Majestic months back and the Chinese-educated applaud their great efforts for getting in the majestic array of Chinese books, that ranges from translated literature, arts, magazines, and even deluxe package novel series. For decades, the true Chinese of Singapore have not had such an academic haven. It is unfortunate that Chinese scholars have this really great sense of thrift that often translates into dog-earred books dumped back on the shelf, stacks of unsold but thoroughly read novel series, weird people who are strangely familiar because you see them in the bookstore reading some books every single time you go. The courageous attempt by the bookstore to slash prices proved further that these scholars has great affinity for money.
Alas, English books packed shelves eventually began emerging from the majestically designed, formerly ‘all-chinese’ bookstore. I believe it would soon take over half of the huge hall. Thinking back about the times when I frequent the Calligraphy shelf (now displaced by the English stuff), I began to regret not buying certain books I have come across. I took for granted that I could finish that few books just by visiting the bookstore now and then. The same applies for some other inspirational sort of books (but I can heck those).
I guess bookstores have to be caught in this dilemma of balancing profits with sincere encouragement for customers to get great books. That’s the case of publishers as well. Good books that could have otherwise been published was not because the publishers didn’t think they were profitable. In effect, the market system is definitely not in sync with the academic world. Looking at this fundamental assumption of rationality of consumers, we may have to sigh. The brave attempt by Popular to rejuvenate the ‘Chinese’ kind of reading culture failed pretty terribly because of several factors – though there are still many things to be happy about.
Firstly, the majority of Singaporeans (those born and raised in singapore) who would read Chinese books are really limited. Often, I find myself the only kid (maybe I am not) in the Chinese section (which takes up three quarter of the space in the bookstore). Most people at the ‘Chinese-educated’ age are at the financial-sensitive age where their price elasticity of demand for books are really high and thus, it is hard for the bookstore to extract profits from them. The second group of customers, those foreign residents educated in Chinese might be attracted but they really take up too little of the whole market and more importantly, the Popular@Majestic isn’t really that popular so to speak.
Life as an economic individual in this world isn’t going to be as smooth-riding nowadays.