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Pin-to Livros & Musica: Farewell to Senado Square

Anson Ng

Located in the tourist centre of the city, the second-storey independent bookstore and music shop, Pin-to Livros & Musica, has overlooked Senado Square for over a decade. However, in July the music store suspended its business and this month the bookstore has to say goodbye to its home, moving on to a new chapter. Opened in 2003 by four booklovers, Anson Ng is now the sole owner in charge of the bookstore. Anson sat down with Business Daily to talk about the experience of opening an independent bookstore in the busiest area of the city and to analyse the book market in Macau when compared to other book markets such as Taiwan and Mainland China.
Why did you want to open an independent bookstore in the city?
One of our very first reasons for opening a bookstore was to provide books that were hardly found in the city at that time. We simply wanted to share the books we liked. But also, another reason for opening the bookstore was to create a platform for people who shared the same passion for reading books to get together. In the very beginning, we did not make any market survey to see whether people would like to read the books we recommended, but very soon we found that there was a group of people out there who were interested in the books we chose for the shop. In fact readers had wished to have books like the ones that we were selling in Pinto for a long time.
Where do most of the books that you pick come from?
Most of our books are imported from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Mainland China, but we also pick some books by local authors.
Since Senado Square has become one of the most attractive tourist areas in the city, how is your customer base for the store? Are most of the customers tourists?
Our customer base has been accumulating in the past decade, and thus reflecting that we are serving within a niche market. We don’t want to sell books to attract as many readers as possible, but to attract people who might prefer the books that we choose to sell. Aside from the books we sell, the most distinctive feature about the store is its location. Many readers appreciate the peaceful and quiet environment provided by this hidden space, contrasting with the bustling and noisy outside world. The store has also allowed visitors to observe the changes of the square over the past years. Also, because of this location, at a certain level we attracted some tourists to visit the store, but we don’t aim to serve tourists. I know very well that adjusting the business for the general tourist would help improve our sales, but too many tourists visiting the store would damage the atmosphere that the store already possesses. It is all about making choices, and we chose to stick with the aim that we had at the very beginning.
How has business been since you opened?
Since the store is not a big one, the risk was not significant during the first few years. But challenges appeared eventually, especially when more people preferred to go online to buy books. We’ve got seven to eight thousand members but not all of them buy books regularly at our store. Therefore, this does not reflect anything of the business condition of the store.
How do you attract more readers to visit or buy books from your store? How does the store compete against online bookstores?
Although we don’t aim to attract tourists, we do care about selling books for the sake of survival. Before, we sold other things aside from books, but for me, myself, I love reading. And the reason that I opened this bookstore was to have an impact on society and get to know more people who share the passion as I do, so I prefer to focus on selling books. A bookstore does not only sell books, it is a cultural space where people can communicate through books. The experience of buying books online and buying books from a bookstore is different, but bookstores have to create more value for readers, to convince them the worth of buying books from a bookstore, even if the price is a bit higher than online stores. The things that online bookstores cannot provide are services between people, and the atmosphere. Also, when people do not have an idea of what books to buy, visiting a bookstore is a preferable option. Meanwhile, I will also continue to consider holding more events in our new store.
How do you create the environment of the bookstore? How do you distinguish it from other bookstores?
We wish to provide a cosy environment, with a personalised style to suit the books that we are selling, but there are numerous bookstores that have a similar atmosphere. As such, we stand out by holding events instead of only providing a place for readers to read or buy books. As an independent bookstore, we have a setting for the store, but all we try to do is to follow our hearts, because we cannot control how visitors feel or think about their experience of visiting the bookstore.
Did the Macau government offer any help for the store?
The Macau government didn’t take the initiative to approach us, but they consider us as part of the cultural and creative industry. They did ask us if they could add the bookstore to one of the cultural and creative maps of the city, as well as the official map by the Macao Tourism Office. Unlike in Taiwan, the Macau government does not have specific subsidies for local independent bookstores to hold events.
How do you think the reading environment of Macau is in comparison to places like Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China?
When compared to Hong Kong and Taiwan, there are obviously very few numbers of people who really enjoy reading. But as a small town, in reference to the rest of the world, Macau’s reading environment is in fact not as pessimistic as many would have thought.
How is the book and publishing market in the city when compared to those markets?
Since most of our books are imported, the prices of the books from our stores are higher when compared to places where the books originate. Some readers also reflected that they discovered a change in the genre of books in our store, but it is actually the publishers who have controlled what books to sell in the market, based on the type of books that are more popular; this happens in particular with publishers from Taiwan. For example, books about lifestyle have been quite ubiquitous in recent years due to increased demand from the reading population.
In Taiwan, the ranking board in Eslite Bookstore (one of the largest retail bookstore chains in Taiwan) also indicates that the reading taste of the population has switched in the past decade. Nevertheless, there are also many small publishers cooperating with small independent bookstores in Taiwan, since many of them cannot enter the bookstore chains. The co-operation between small publishers and independent bookstores thus created the ecosystem, providing more book options. Unfortunately, there is basically no independent publisher in Macau, with only the Macao Foundation publishing books by local authors. Books by local authors have very limited business value, therefore there are not many people willing to buy these books.
What is the main reason for moving the bookstore?
Many have misunderstood that our leaving is because of the growing rental price of the store, but we are not the only ones to leave. Around us there were a lot of chain stores such as Starbucks and McDonalds that left. Our original landlord sold the store to another company two years ago and we were simply informed by the new landlord to end the contract without any chance of negotiation. But I myself personally, also wish to leave the tourist area.
Do you have any concerns that the change of location will impact on the bookstore?
Not at all, I am very much looking forward to moving to the new location. I wish for the bookstore to blend in with the surrounding community.

Pin-to Livros will close after September 30 and will reopen in January 2017. The new location will be at Rua De Coelho Do Amaral No.41, near Kiang Wu Hospital.