Changing the world, one book at a time: How Big Bad Wolf Books made reading more affordable

Kenny Mah
Frenzied browsing at the annual Big Bad Wolf Books — Pictures courtesy of Big Bad Wolf Books

SHAH ALAM, Dec 10 — I’ve been an avid book reader since childhood but even if I weren’t it would still be quite a wonder to behold this sight: shelves of books spiralling towards the ceiling, the tower of tomes lit gently with a golden glow.

This could be the library of our dreams but for the modern escalator taking customers deeper into the book tower.

Welcome to BookXcess, it's 8th outlet in Setia Alam, to be exact, joining its equally captivating sibling outlets in Tamarind Square, Kong Heng Ipoh, Gurney Paragon Mall and elsewhere.

It’s a world away from the frenzy that is the annual book sale that is Big Bad Wolf Books – the possibly more well-known offshoot of the BookXcess empire – where over three million visitors worldwide have made the event a tremendous success.

Spiralling tower: the 8th BookXcess outlet, located in Setia Alam

But at the end of the day, be it idyllic book stores with in-house cafés and study areas or a massive book sale with rock-bottom prices, it’s the books that matter.

It’s that sense you’re a child again, turning the page to find out what happens next.

That sense of childhood wonder is something both Jacqueline Ng and Andrew Yap, the co-founders of both BookXcess book stores and Big Bad Wolf Books, clearly understand.

Ng shares, “Our main mission is to get books into the hands of as many people as we possibly can and we do this by making books accessible and affordable.”

Removing barriers of entry is something Yap has first hand experience with. He’s been an entrepreneur since he was 14, when he, along with some friends, convinced a major comic distributor in the United States to send them old comic books.

“We then sold them to our friends and peers in our school! Right after completing my secondary education in Kuala Lumpur, I knew I had to do something big as I have a passion in me to create an impact to the world.”

During a motor show in Singapore, Yap observed a news stand peddling collector car magazines. He recalls, “Without a second thought, I got the idea to open a magazine store and I did.

"Along with my wife Jacqueline, we evolved the magazine store into a book store in a neighbourhood mall, and then to the empire of Big Bad Wolf book sale that we have currently.”

Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng, the co-founders of BookXcess book stores and Big Bad Wolf Books

Ng adds, “We needed to organise something bigger and that was when we came up with the idea of the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale in 2009. We believe it’s not just about selling books, but we are an organisation that advocates reading and we hope to spread the reading habit to people around the world, especially where purchasing a book is a luxury.”

One question the couple always gets is how on earth they manage to sell books at such reduced prices, and it’s one they never tire of answering.

Yap explains, “We always have our customers in mind when we’re buying books. Being in the remainder book business, we have an advantage of negotiating our buying prices. This way, we are able to pass the savings on to all readers and book lovers, giving all these books a new home.”

This competitive edge means Ng and Yap are able to consider what their customers would be willing to pay for that particular book as part of their pricing process.

They then try to keep that within the 75 per cent to 95 per cent off the recommended retail price discount range.

To distinguish themselves from other adjacent businesses such as brick-and-mortar book stores and online retailers such as the giant that is Amazon, Big Bad Wolf Books employs a niche business model of holding a 24-hour book sale for a period of 11 days.

Yap notes, “Along with varieties of genres of affordable books, these are part of the unique features of the book sale that can attract more visitors. The experience and thrill you get from shopping at our sale is incomparable to anything common.”

Logistics – such as packing the products – requires advance planning to ensure delivery to events across multiple cities

While the response from customers has been wildly encouraging – from selling 160,000 books when they started to now selling 4.5 million books – the numbers alone means the logistics could have proven to be a stumbling block for any entrepreneur.

Yap says, “The challenge of holding book sales in multiple cities concurrently requires advance planning by the entire organisation including logistics arrangements. Therefore, we remain highly dynamic in our execution and ability to respond to urgent requests.”

As with any fledgling business, there was a lot of trial-and-error when they launched. Ng says, “When we first started, we did not have any processes in place and it was just the two of us.

"As we grew and became sought-after, we brought on more people. A lot of tips came from our loyal customers too: book titles, purchasing interest, ethnography, refining event flow, the layout and so on.”

Ng and Yap were the ones selecting and buying books at the beginning. The duo still do that today albeit now backed by a team of buyers.

Ng says, “We are constantly on the lookout for credible authors and titles, and researching markets to enter.”

In 2016, the couple introduced the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale to Indonesia and Thailand. Two years later, they covered seven countries and 16 cities. To date, the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale has expanded and toured 32 cities in 10 countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Pop Art Corner at BookXcess Kong Heng Ipoh (left) and study area at BookXcess Tamarind Square (right)

Ng shares, “Given our mission to cultivate reading habits and building a new generation of readers, we have been approached by many countries who share the same objective and want to increase the nation’s literacy rates.”

The rest of the nation isn’t forgotten while they spread out internationally. In conjunction with the Big Bad Wolf Books' 10th anniversary, the company has toured 10 other states in Malaysia – Pahang, Johor, Sarawak, Sabah, Negeri Sembilan, Penang, Terengganu, Perak, Melaka and Kedah.

Ng says, “We started our first book sale in Malaysia and the support we received from our fellow Malaysians was just incredible. Hence, we are doing our best to give back to the community which will hopefully build a generation of readers not just overseas but also here in Malaysia.”

In the near future, Big Bad Wolf Books is looking to further widen their footprint to other regions including Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Latin America.

It’s a mission for the couple. Yap notes, “We believe that it takes one book to change a non-reader to a reader. We are always in the pursuit of changing the world, one book at a time.”

Big Bad Wolf Book Sale Kuala Lumpur 2019 is happening now till December 16 at MIECC, The Mines, Seri Kembangan (24 hours a day). To learn more about Big Bad Wolf Books, visit bigbadwolfbooks.com

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