Next chapter for used books 1

Thirty minutes later, when she got off the subway at Xizhimen Station, Gao had read 20 pages of the book. Commuting to and from work on the subway has provided her with a regular reading session since she graduated from college in 2016.

She bought The Art of Loving on Duozhuayu, an online used-book recycling and selling platform, and plans to sell the book back to the platform after she has finished it. Duozhuayu’s name sounds like the French word “déjà vu” when pronounced in Mandarin.

Young readers have become a major book-buying force in China, and they are raising the circulation of used books.

Gao, a project manager in foreign trade, initially planned to spend 100 yuan (K21,400/US$14.50) a month on books. But for the past three months, she has spent more than 500 yuan each month, or about 7 percent of her income.

“I used to buy new books on online platforms, such as Amazon or Dangdang. Since my friends recommended that I use Duozhuayu two years ago, it has become my main platform to buy books,” she said.

Gao thinks used books are reasonably priced and generally in an acceptable state, since the platform refurbishes them and uses labels to state their condition.

“There are different versions and conditions of books, with a range of prices. If a book has stain marks or something written on it, you will know about this before you receive it,” she said.

Founded in 2017, Duozhuayu now has a 6000-square-metre warehouse in Tianjin to examine, refurbish and store used books. 

Four-step refurbishing

Chen Qiulin, 24, a staff member at the warehouse, said a recycled book must undergo a four-step refurbishing process before it goes back on the bookshelf.

“The first step is cleaning. Some 50pc of the recycled books are in quite good condition, and 3pc to 5pc are brand new, so each of our workers can clean about 200 books an hour,” Chen said.

The second step is polishing the edges, before the books are sent to a disinfection room. “They remain there for 60 to 85 minutes for ozone disinfection. This room can hold 2000 books at a time,” Chen said.

The final step is the addition of plastic packaging for each book before it is ready to be delivered to the reader.

“We have about 25 workers in all four processes, and they can now handle about 14,000 books a day,” Chen added.

Scanning book barcodes

Yan Shen, 23, who works for a film company, enjoys receiving refurbished books from Duozhuayu.

“For some new books, it’s not easy to flip the pages over, but for used books, it’s usually smooth,” she said. “Also, when you see remarks written on the pages, you feel connected to the previous owner, which seems romantic to me.”

Yan places two or three orders with Duozhuayu each month, and as her collection of books mounts, she plans to sell some of them back to the platform.

Gao has already started to resell books, but has only selected those she thinks she won’t reread. Using her phone, she scans the barcodes of books to sell on Duozhuayu’s WeChat account, and it tells her whether a certain book has been recycled by the platform, and the purchasing price.

A courier visits her home to collect the books and take them to the warehouse in Tianjin. After a book is checked, Gao receives payment.

Chen is responsible for a book’s final check. He said that three out of 100 books are rejected, mainly because they are pirated.

“We record different versions of pirated books and also trace the legitimate version so that we can identify pirated copies,” Chen said. “Take, for example, ‘Miracles of the Namiya General Store’, a 2012 Japanese novel by Keigo Higashino. The inside cover of the legitimate version has a wrinkle effect, while the pirated version does not.”

Books that are rejected can be taken back by the users. If they choose not to, the books are destroyed.

Chen said the warehouse receives about 14,000 books and sells 12,000 to 13,000 each day. “Even though we can sell most of the books, with about 1000 surplus ones each day, we now have almost 1 million books in storage,” he said.

Bai Dongyan, Duozhuayu’s marketing business development operator, said that in 2017 when the platform was founded, it recycled 120,000 books and sold 110,000. Last year, it recycled 2.9 million books and sold 2.3 million.

Bai said that to reduce storage, Duozhuayu launched a pop-up offline book store last year. It also started a project to enable readers to get books for free that are not recycled by the platform. They only have to pay shipping.

“Some 75pc of our users are under 30 and come from first-tier cities. They are mostly students, freelancers and internet company employees,” she said.

Like Duozhuayu, Manyoujing is also a used-book customer-to-business-to-customer platform, and was founded last year.

But it does not pay its users in cash. When users sell books to Manyoujing, the platform gives them points that equate to the original price of a book, which can then be used to buy books on the platform.

Founded in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Manyoujing now has more than 2 million registered users.

Reading more, paying less

Founder Wang Long told technology media website 36kr that 70pc of its users are both buyers and sellers, and 90pc of the books collected can be sold in 30 days.

“We have noticed a demand among young people for reading by exchange – to read more books without paying more money,” Wang said.

In addition to Duozhuayu and Manyoujing, there are customer-to-customer online platforms for used books, such as Confucius and the flea market platforms Xianyu and Zhuanzhuan.

Confucius, founded in 2002, is now one of the largest online used-book platforms and features old titles that are worth collecting. It has attracted more than 10,000 bookstores and over 30,000 booksellers. – China Daily