Located in Beijing’s central business district, the two-story Juvenile & Children Reading Experience Wonderland is a full-fledged subsidiary of China Children’s Press & Publication Group (for more on CCPPG, see p. 16). Right from the outset, Wonderland has embarked on a divergent path by focusing on experiential reading services instead of just selling books.
During PW’s recent visit to the store, nearly 100 students from a rural primary school in Beijing’s Fangshan district were on the premises. One group congregated in the theater area discussing the skits they were about to perform with their teacher and a Wonderland guide, while another group, on low communal tables in another corner, were experimenting with their science activity kits. Another group of younger students enjoyed their boxed lunches amid boisterous conversations and laughter.
Throughout its 5,000-sq.-m. space, Wonderland is designed with children in mind, utilizing bright color schemes and kid-friendly fittings and fixtures. “A comfortable and safe space is conducive to reading and learning, and that is what we aim for,” explains Li Xueqian, president of CCPPG, adding that the whole construction took three years.
The idea behind the development of Wonderland, conceived in 2007, is to “make reading fun by supplementing it with activities and games, and then to go deeper to understand the reading and learning needs of schoolchildren and their schools,” Li says. “But we have to figure out the business model and the practicalities: how to make money—and if we even can make money—and where to go from there.”
The answer to the first part of his question is becoming evident: in the second half of 2015, more than 30,000 primary schoolers from 130 schools visited the store. Last year, just between March and June, 15,000 students visited the store. The fee for these visits, charged depending on the program selected, is CNY 80–100 ($11.60–$14.50) per student. “We broke even last year with services rendered to just 43 schools from two districts, Daxing and Fangshan,” Li says. “This year, more have already committed to the Wonderland programs.” He points out that 60% of the store’s income is derived from these fees, the rest from book sales—“from titles coming from various publishers, not just CCPPG.”
Li and his team have also developed special kits for use at Wonderland. The Drama in Education kit, for instance, gives schoolchildren tools to express themselves and be creative and imaginative. Each set is designed for 45 students and is priced at CNY 30,000 ($4,366). More than 150 sets were sold last year.
The second question about Wonderland’s future—where to go from here—will require more time to answer. “A deep-rooted traditional-publishing mindset revolving around book sales and new titles is the biggest barrier,” Li says. “Wonderland is essentially a reading-service platform for children, the antithesis of a bookstore. In addition to onsite reading programs and activities, our services include collaborations with schools to build the appropriate reading environment. Since reading classes are new in many schools, the majority of the teachers are not sure how to implement them effectively, or how to improve a student’s reading ability or interest. Or even how to build the school’s reading resources. That is where our school reading services come into play.”
Through these services, Wonderland advises schools to stock their libraries with at least 2,000 titles, of which 200 should form the core reading list. “We build reading programs based on these core titles, train teachers, provide appropriate teaching and learning kits, track the progress, conduct annual evaluation, and make the necessary tweaks,” adds Li, who firmly believes that the future of the publishing industry is going to be driven by such services. Hence, he wants Wonderland—and therefore CCPPG—to have the first-mover advantage.