May’s International Bookshop of the Month – Or Bookstore in Taiwan

Since opening in 2017, Or Bookstore in Taiwan has worked to offer a hundred ways for readers to connect reading and everyday life. They present a world-view through their curated selection of books, magazines and creative products, and also hold lectures, film screenings and workshops to discuss the issues of family education, literature, history, art, cultures, agri-food and the environment. Through these manifold initiatives, Or Bookstore sincerely invites its customers to bravely go beyond the mainstream values and make their own choices in the realm of reading. Read on to find out more about this incredible Taiwanese shop!

1. What makes your bookshop unique and how has this changed over the years of trading?

Hsinchu City is dominated by the high technology industries. The lifestyle here is rather regular, with the main residents being families of engineers who work at the Science Park. As a result, the stores and services in this city are mostly geared toward meeting the material needs of these people and therefore less diversified. The core value of our bookstore is to promote “five senses of reading” in everyday life. Through a rich and multifarious collection of tens of thousands of books, a spacious and comfortable reading area, intense and multifaceted activity plans and a unique interior design of “one hundred corners”, we provide a place for modern people to find some personal spaces in the city.

Our customers have told us that because of this bookstore, they have regained their habit of reading and consuming printed books. Also, they have felt the diverse cultural and aesthetic values of Taiwan, and even met people with the same taste who share the love of seeking knowledge.

2. Do you think that attitudes around books have changed in the past year?

In recent years, the social function of social media has declined and become a hotbed of disinformation, making media discrimination and information warfare important issues of the new era. I believe that readers have recently changed their perspective on books, recognising that the authenticity of printed books is strictly controlled, and willing to take books as a primary source of information when seeking a more contextual understanding of an issue or topic. Also, when it comes to conveying ideas, we will consider publishing book sets, hoping to spread influence across time and space.

As search engines become more sophisticated, we see the world more and more predictable. The emergence of independent bookstores, which are able to promote specific topics and choose their ways of doing business, offer readers another chance of being inspired in an age of information explosion and overload. Therefore, a new generation of readers no longer look to books for the only answers, but for the possibility to ask questions.

3. Do you run any subscription/ gift choosing services?

In mid-2021, the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to our business performance as no one visited bookstores. Inspired by the many ‘vegetable boxes’ and ‘snack boxes’ on the internet, we tried to launch the ‘book box for pandemic prevention’.  During the pandemic period when we could only stay at home, books became our spiritual food, and we definitely needed the company of words to balance our lives. Therefore, our staff worked together for three weeks to select thirty themes based on their interests and consumer profiles and needs, with ten recommended books for each theme and our reasons for picking them. By using the simplest technological tools, which were Google Forms and Facebook, to launch the book-box service, readers could shop and order books with a simple click at home. In addition to the contents, the packaging was also meticulously designed. We believed that bookstores had the power to help relieve our stress and pressure during the pandemic and that the moment a customer received the package, they would be comforted by the thoughtfulness we put into it, inside and out. The record for this event was when someone ordered thirty books and we wrapped a huge and heavy box of their books!

4. Do you have author events and book readings in the store? If so, how do you choose these – and are there any plans to expand upon the current program? Who was your most successful author?

Since opening in 2017, one of our business strategies has been to organise a large number of events each month to attract people to visit our bookstore. These events include issue-based sharing sessions, literary presentations, music and drama performances, cooking classes, craft workshops, etc. In recent years, we have also held a picture book club for children, and the number of participants each month is steadily increasing. We believe that as a local bookstore, it is important to have the ability to make plans, integrate knowledge with lively learning materials and let readers appreciate the past, present and future of cultures through a variety of experiences.

We invited Chen Ban, the author of Local Customs of Liujia Village (《六家庄風土志》) which has been published for more than 20 years, to the sharing session held by our bookshop to share his thoughts. Nearly a hundred people attended the event. His book chronicles the history of Hsinchu city, where our bookstore is located, and we succeeded in making the residents here more aware of the landscape and historical changes in the area over the past 40 years. The book even went out of print after our event!

In addition, Gourmet Map in Hsinchu City (《風城味兒》) written by local author Li Yuanzhang is also a best-selling masterpiece. The book, which combines human history and food research, is favoured by locals, foreigners, young and middle-aged people as it is a great tool for them to experience the cultures of the city through gourmet food. In the future, we will continue to put efforts into the study of Hsinchu city and create a platform for diverse discussions on this city, encouraging more people to devote themselves to the study of Hsinchu and explore this city together.

5. What is the most rewarding part of working in a bookshop? What is the most difficult part?

At our bookstore, you can see many parents willing to read with their children, or families choosing their own books separately, and together spending a quiet morning here. While most people choose to focus on 3C products and streaming platforms for entertainment, reading seems to be an unpopular hobby. Nevertheless, we insist on operating the physical store for at least eight hours a day to cater to these customers. Also, through constant communication and book selection planning, we present the diversity of knowledge to the readers. You can definitely gain more than you think from visiting our bookstore! After five years, the number of our members has reached several thousand, and most of the consumers are local residents in Hsinchu. Reading has truly become a daily routine for some of them.

Selling books at original price is certainly the hardest part of the job, but at the same time, as we put the books in the right place, encounter the right people and trigger some changes or actions, the subsequent sparks make us feel the value of our existence.  

We have an important criterion for book selection, which are books our readers buy here and will read again and again, so that they will keep these books even when moving house in the future. We believe that Yale University Press’ publications, coupled with exquisite typography and binding, have cultural depth in terms of subject matters and such foreign-language publications are definitely worth recommending to Taiwan readers. Though, generally speaking, Taiwan readers have not yet developed the habit of reading and purchasing foreign language books, we observed that there are already some readers who are interested in art and culture, humanities research and have a thirst for connecting with the world through books. Therefore, we have selected The LITTLE HISTORY and HOW TO READ series in the hope that readers here can have a more comprehensive access to the first-hand contents of this classic series.

To learn more about Or Bookshore, you can visit their website of Facebook page, or visit the shop in Taiwan!

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