News that the number of bookshops at Hong Kong International Airport will be cut raises a serious question: is this because of changing reading habits or political pressure to stop the sale of books that are politically sensitive?
The number of bookstores at Hong Kong International Airport will be reduced when current contracts expire. Some of the remaining outlets will be moved to smaller spaces with less foot traffic.
The number of bookshops at Hong Kong International Airport will be cut from 16 to 10 when contracts expire in April. The two largest book outlets will be replaced by luxury fashion boutiques.
Some of the remaining bookstores will be relocated from the departure area to smaller spaces near gates.
Singapore based Page One, which currently has six bookstores in the airport’s two terminals, is pulling out of the airport altogether.
French owned Relay is losing half of its 10 outlets. China based bookstore chain Chung Hwa will operate the remaining five outlets.
But what is the real reason for the changes?
Recommended: Hong Kong Police Get Hawkish on Hawkers Hawking Fish Balls>>
Is it because of changing reading habits? An increasing number of bibliophiles are reading books digitally, and many bricks-and-mortar bookshops have, in fact, closed down around the world.
Or is it because of political pressure?
Was the Hong Kong Airport Authority pressured to close down bookshops selling politically sensitive books, as some people suggest?
Politically sensitive books are, in fact, among the best sellers at the airport. Some Chinese travelers visiting Hong Kong buy such books at bookshops in town and at the airport because they can’t buy them at home.
Freedom of the Press
Under the one country, two systems model, Hong Kong continues to enjoy a much higher degree of press freedom than the Chinese mainland.
People in Hong Kong have unfettered access to Facebook and Twitter. Newspapers continue to report the news as they see it. Editorials are frequently critical of government policy.
Book publishers have also been able to publish books exploring topics that would not be allowed anywhere else in the country.
Are these freedoms being slowly eroded?
The announced changes at the airport come at an especially sensitive time for Hong Kong.
Five Hong Kong booksellers publishing politically sensitive books went missing last year, and there was speculation that they had been kidnapped by Chinese agents and whisked across the Hong Kong – China border.
The book publishers eventually turned up on the mainland, claiming they had left Hong Kong voluntarily to aid a book smuggling investigation.
The book publishers were recently repatriated to Hong Kong. They have been keeping a low profile. I doubt if they will be publishing any more “politically sensitive” books any time soon!