By Minh Hương
HÀ NỘI — As book sales plummet during the COVID-19 lockdown, one of the leading publishers in Việt Nam has made the unorthodox decision to sell food via its website.
During the pandemic, Hồ Chí Minh City Book Distribution Joint Stock Company (Fahasa) has had to close most of its 120 bookstores across the country except some in the northern parts while revenue in July 2021 was only 30 per cent of the same period last year.
Though books are considered essential food for the soul, they are not considered essential during the pandemic, especially when people need food delivered to their homes, so the publisher is now offering food on its website, which normally sells books and stationery.
Though it is one of the most well-known publishers in the country, hot items on Fahasa are no longer copies of War and Peace, but vegetables, fruit, eggs and others foods.
Living near An Đông market in District 5, HCM City, Nguyễn Mỹ Hạnh, stopped shopping in the market a month ago as she wants to protect her parents, who are over 80-years of age, from contracting the virus.
Instead, Hạnh shops at different channels, including from the publisher. As a book lover, Hạnh told Việt Nam News: “It is both convenient and heartbreaking for me to see that a publisher I like has to do this to stay open. They even offered me a promotion code for buying food.”
With more than half of the bookstores of the publisher closed, chairman of Fahasa Phạm Minh Thuận said the online team was still active. Though he did not clarify sales of food, he said: "E-commerce makes a big contribution to Fahasa's revenue, more than VNĐ30 billion (US$1.3 million) per month."
According to Phạm Nam Thắng, acting director of the publisher, its revenue in 2019 before the pandemic was VNĐ3.7 trillion.
Thắng told Việt Nam News: "Though the food items do not much contribute to the sales of the firm, we ran it to help people in the city to access food easily with our online operation and storage system."
Thắng said as Fahasa operated in 47 cities and provinces of Việt Nam and had been developing the online platform for over three years, it had a distribution advantage when it came to selling food.
Another player in market, Alpha Books, said their revenue in the first 6 months of the year only reached 84 per cent compared to the same period in 2020, while Nhã Nam Culture and Communication Joint Stock Company closed six bookstores, with its revenue only reaching 76 per cent compared to the same period in 2020.
Though not all selling food like Fahasa, online book sales have helped publishers to ease the difficulties during the pandemic. Big chains such as Phương Nam Bookstore, Thái Hà Bookstore, Nhã Nam and Chibooks announced that their online revenues increased by 10 to 20 per cent.
Thanks to strong promotions on social networks with livestreams, as well as videos on Facebook, YouTube, Zalo, books are continuing to sell well online.
According to incomplete statistics from the first half of the year, buying and selling books on e-commerce platforms such as Tiki, Lazada, Shopee has become main channel, accounting for over 65 per cent of the market.
As well as selling food, Fahasa also works with schools across the country to deliver textbooks to student homes in the pandemic in case they have to study from home in the coming school year. — VNS