For Chen Feifei, life now revolves around a three-square-meter area equipped with a wooden desk, a lamp, and piles of textbooks.
The 22-year-old paid 2,888 yuan ($400) to lease the study room for six months, as she prepares for her upcoming postgraduate entrance exam in December. Like Chen, millions of people in China, primarily students and young professionals, have rented such shoebox spaces from private companies over the past few years, contributing to the rise of a new industry.
China currently has more than 3,600 study room businesses, with over 92% of them established during the past five years, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Thursday, citing data from corporate database Tianyancha. First developed in major cities, the industry has now sprawled into smaller counties and towns in the past two years.
People study late at a paid study room in Chongqing, Nov. 16, 2019. IC
The emergence comes as a direct result of the need to meet the surging demand for space among young Chinese preparing for either college or civil service exams. Both saw record numbers of applicants last year, as a fledgling economy and high unemployment rate have forced many to postpone their graduation or consider working in the public sector.
“I can focus more while studying in this exclusive space without outside distractions,” Chen, who used a pseudonym due to privacy concerns, told Sixth Tone.
Apart from a writing desk and a semi-closed room for each person, a typical study room usually comes with other areas for dining and recreational purposes. Such private spaces have also emerged as an alternative to libraries, where many students study, but are now periodically shut due to pandemic controls.
A woman holding books walks by study cubicles at a study room in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Aug. 12, 2020. VCG
A 2020 report by Internet giant Meituan noted that study rooms have emerged as one of the most vibrant life service sectors on its platform, with the fastest increase in transactions. Based on an estimation from market consultancy firm iiMedia last year, the number of users will reach 7.55 million by the end of 2022.
But experts have warned of the fragility in the current business model to external risks as business owners are heavily reliant on rental fees as the sole source of revenue. Despite the expected growth, the iiMedia report showed more than half of surveyed consumers believed the service was too expensive.
“It’s not an easy and profitable business to run,” a businessman surnamed Zhang, who owns a study room in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone, adding that COVID-19 restrictions have led to a decrease in customers.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: People study at a paid study room in Fuzhou, Fujian province, Aug. 6, 2020. Lü Ming/CNS/VCG)