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Taiwan bookstore bets on mystery thrillers to revive business

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-08-10 07:52
Murder Ink bookstore in Taipei is one of the few bookstores in Taiwan that focuses mainly on detective novels. [Photo/JIEMIAN.COM]

TAIPEI-A human skeleton hangs on the wall above a creepy plastic baby head. A smiling doll stares down at the customers from a high shelf. A gramophone blasts eerie music.

In Tommy Tan's Murder Ink bookstore, everything exudes a mysterious vibe. The store is located in a quiet alley in downtown Taipei and is one of the few bookstores in Taiwan that focuses mainly on detective novels.

"I launched the bookstore because I wanted to help the detective genre take root in Taiwan," Tan, 47, says. "I have always loved detective books, and it makes my life more meaningful if people can share the joy of literature with me."

Tan says he hopes the bookstore can enrich people's lives. His "dream bookstore" would be a place where readers can communicate and make friends with each other, and authors can share their ideas and draw inspiration from each other.

But his idea comes at a time when brick-and-mortar bookstore businesses in Taiwan are struggling in an increasingly digitized era. According to a report by the People's Daily in May, on Taiwan's South Chongqing Road, where there were once more than 100 bookstores, now, only 10 remain.

Tan says-even with all the classic books he has collected from around the world, the carefully decorated reading room and the book discounts-public interest in traditional bookstores seems to be diminishing in today's digitized world. He says these days, his bookstore sometimes receives only one or two customers a day.

But despite the setback, Tan is determined to hold on to his store.

"I think brick-and-mortar bookstores are unique and irreplaceable," Tan says. "It's a place where you can be inspired and enlightened, and create something special."

Tan says bookstores give people an experience that e-books will never be able to replace.

Detective books

Before Tan started Murder Ink, he was an independent online-documentary editor. His real passion, however, has always been detective books.

"I have always loved experiencing the craziness in detective books and mystery novels," Tan says. "You learn about compassion, and you can find comfort in books.

"Every time I read the mystery genre, I feel like a detective myself."

Tan has translated many detective stories, which further inspired him to create a detective-themed bookstore. When he launched Murder Ink, he only had a small collection of secondhand books but he wanted more. An elderly woman in Taiwan heard about the store, contacted Tan and donated her collection of some 600 detective books to him.

He also decorated the store to attract more people, with items such as plastic dolls, a skeleton and a gramophone.

But despite his efforts, business has been "tepid", he says. The store only made about 400 Taiwan dollars ($13) in two days at its worst point.

"I remember we were making ends meet, and I had to sell a piece of the store's antique furniture to pay rent," Tan says.

He says at this point of his life, it's no longer about making big bucks, but about living a meaningful and worthwhile life. The bookstore allows him to do that. "I would not be doing this if I wanted to make money," Tan says. "Plus, the bookstore helps preserve culture."

New page

Tan says that, at first, he just wanted to focus on selling books, but discovered only selling books was not enough to keep the store together. To help the store survive, he studied how to make beverages for some extra money.

"We also rented our store to people making films or advertisements," he says.

"We are also coming up with novel ways to promote the bookstore to attract more readers.

"I often go on radio (shows) to talk about the latest books I read."

He has invited authors and readers to the store to share their ideas as well.

The store also sells some other items, such as calendars, fedora hats and nail polish. He is thinking about transforming the bookstore into a homestay that offers accommodation, food and books to tourists, he says.

"Essentially, the store is all about bringing people back to the world of books and enjoying a moment of life," Tan says, adding that he believes literature is powerful.

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