I heard that issue of Phoenix Weekly was only on bookshelves for a couple of weeks before the central propaganda bureau ordered it confiscated and
blocked their website for a month. It was a pretty severe punishment, but the reporter told me that she didn't regret it, and her boss supported her.
Well, a lot of Chinese journalists don't necessarily agree with government censorship, it's just one of the conditions under which they work.
That's true. A lot of reports don't make it past the censors, but I'm not quite sure how this one did. The cover of the magazine read: "Hong Kong: City of
Banned Books". It was very in-your-face. After that, word got around and many Chinese who'd never been to Hong Kong learned about us.
On top of that, lots of travel blogs began to mention "that bookstore in Causeway Bay". We even made it onto a lot of the "must-visit" lists, right after
Ocean Park. We were pretty happy that we had customers singing our praises.
Sounds like you were very well-received.
Definitely. For mainlanders these kinds of materials are very difficult to obtain. Nowadays in news kiosks and even convenience stores like 7-11 they're
starting to sell banned books. They know it's already a good market.
Of the banned books that People's Recreation Community sells, what topics have historically sold the best?
We typically separate the banned books into two categories. One category is historical books. The other is hot topics, things like the Bo Xilai case. When
news breaks we sell a lot of the second category, but not long afterward sales will dry up. We'll order 100 books the first time around and sell out
quickly and then maybe another 20 and that's enough. One of the main reasons is that the stories develop quickly. In the beginning of the Bo Xilai case,
all the books were about Wang Lijun. Then it was Bo Xilai. After that, the attention shifted to Zhou Yongkang. The story is evolving constantly, so we
won't commit to large stocks of those types of books.
The historical book category is different. Books like The Deng Xiaoping Era, Zhao Ziyang's
Prisoner of the State
; books like those are classics. From the moment they're published right up until today, they sell well. Of course were not selling dozens of copies a week
of each of those books, but they are guaranteed to sell. Gao Hua's How the Red Sun Rose is another example.
Some customers already have digital copies of the book, but they want to have a physical copy they can hold in their hands or place on their bookshelf to
show that they're true readers. We might sell 300 copies of a book about Bo Xilai or Gu Kailai, but we'll sell 1,000 of Gao Hua's book.
What areas of China send you the most customers?
We get customers from all over China, but of course the coastal cities are better represented. People in those areas are wealthier and have more
opportunities to come to Hong Kong. We get a higher percentage of customers from Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Beijing, those kinds of places.