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    As the Floods Continue, Another Casualty Emerges: Millions of Books

    Major publishers and booksellers are reeling after their warehouses in the small city of Zhuozhou, around 100 kilometers from Beijing, were hit by extreme floods. Book lovers are offering their financial support, but the losses may be too much for some to survive.

    While historic floods in China’s northern regions have devastated millions of lives and caused severe damage to farmland and infrastructure, one industry has been hit particularly hard: books.

    Since late July, the major publishing hub of Zhuozhou in Hebei province has been one of the worst-hit areas of northern China. The floods have caused estimated losses of over 10 billion yuan ($1.38 billion) for the books industry after floodwater damaged hundreds of publishing warehouses there.

    Sound on Paper, a 27-year-old bookstore chain in Beijing, has seen losses of over 10 million yuan after floods inundated its Zhuozhou warehouse.

    The warehouse, totaling 2,000 square meters, had an inventory worth around 120 million yuan, the bookstore’s founder Yan Bing told Sixth Tone. The floods hit the warehouse on Aug. 1, and the water level quickly rose to two meters. Less than one-fifth of the books in the warehouse were salvaged.

    The floods in Zhuozhou have receded in the last few days, allowing publishers to begin tallying up their losses and moving out books that can be salvaged. Officials announced 29 deaths and 16 missing people in the province on Friday.

    According to local media reports, insurance companies may not offer stand-alone coverage for books because the “risk of flooding and fire is too high,” or the insurance premiums would be very high if there was coverage, an insurance executive was cited as saying.

    Yan did not have insurance coverage for his warehouse. A veteran of the books industry, Yan has never seen a disaster of this scale before. “Our bookstores are tied to our warehouse. If the supply chain is disrupted, it will lead to delays in deliveries and inventory updates for each store,” he said.

    Zhuozhou hosts several major publishing warehouses thanks to its location near Beijing where major publishers are based, an employee of Shanghai People’s Publishing Company surnamed Ding told Sixth Tone. “To save on logistics and storage costs, they place a significant amount of books in rural areas near Beijing,” he said.

    Yan moved his warehouse from Beijing to Zhuozhou in 2019 to save costs. His warehouse, as well as major booksellers, such as BooksChina and CNTIME, are all located in Matou Town, one of the hardest-hit areas in Zhuozhou.

    In a post on microblogging platform Weibo on Aug. 2, BooksChina, one of the biggest online booksellers in the country, said around 80% of its Zhuozhou inventory, or more than 4 million books worth over 300 million yuan, was damaged by the floods. Many of these were rare and out-of-print books. 

    Without insurance, several publishers are pushing to sell their unaffected books to raise funds during this difficult period. On Aug. 4, e-commerce platform Taobao launched a campaign called “I’m buying a book for Zhuozhou.” More than 117 booksellers have joined the campaign, with BooksChina selling over 10,000 bundles as of Friday.

    On Wednesday, the Shanghai Book Fair, which starts next Wednesday, announced they will donate one yuan to affected publishers for each ticket sold, and will also hold fundraising events.

    Yan has been selling his bundles, which include five new books and one canvas bag, at a price of 99 yuan. The book bundle is currently the only product in Yan’s online store. Though his bundles do not specify which books are included, almost 2,000 people have already purchased them.

    Yan said these book bundle sales can help ease his financial burden, but may not be enough to save his business completely.

    “For us, it’s very difficult to return to where we were before because there aren’t any funds left,” said Yan. “We could get through the pandemic, but this is much harder.”

    According to the China Meteorological Administration, the third typhoon in recent weeks to hit China, Typhoon Khanun, is set to make landfall on Friday evening in Liaoning province. The province activated a level four emergency response for flood control on Thursday.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Books floating in a flooded book warehouse in Zhuozhou, Hebei province, Aug. 1, 2023. From Weibo)