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Why books still matter

While Covid continues to keep people apart through restricted movements and ruined travel plans, books keep them connected to the real world.

Books play a quintessential role in everyone’s life by introducing people to a world of imagination, providing knowledge of the outside world, improving literacy rate and boosting memory and intelligence.

Books speak of experience, life, trauma and love.

Big Bad Wolf Books, founded by Singaporean Jacqueline Ng and her husband Andrew Yap (below), is a global reading advocacy that aims to empower people to gain knowledge, promote reading and experience the joy of reading. Its mission of Changing the World, One Book at a Time, took them to 34 cities in 13 countries. The reach is still growing.

Since Covid became a pandemic, Big Bad Wolf Books has been making sure that people in various cities are still able to gain access to the largest and most extensive book sale digitally that caters to all ages and those with different reading needs.

At Big Bad Wolf Books, we work tirelessly to promote the love for reading to ensure that books are easily accessible to everyone and that no one should be deprived of the joy of reading regardless of the pandemic or not,” said Jacqueline.

“Reading is a magical experience that not only helps to destress and relax one’s mind, it also helps to create, inspire and empower to shape one’s positive mindset and harness the power to transform your learning journey. With every book, there is always something new and inspiring to take away.”

Going against all odds, and in the midst of the Covid crisis, Big Bad Wolf Books decided to land in Singapore in 2020. It was a resounding success with its debut launch. This year, people in Singapore can look forward to a better enhanced user experience at the Big Bad Wolf Online Book Sale from 6 to 16 August as well as more and better varieties of books and titles with its trademark massive savings of up to 95%.

“We are definitely excited to be back again in Singapore. As a country closest to Malaysia, we look forward to sharing more good things and reaching out to more people who eventually will benefit from the joys of reading,” said Andrew (below). “With mental health as a rising concern around the world, one’s mental state is challenged. And this is especially so with long period of missing social relationships and networking. We hope through books, one can level up to create, to inspire and eventually to empower – with positivity.”

Big Bad Wolf Books was launched in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2009, by BookXcess’ founders Andrew and Jacqueline. Its primary mission is to cultivate reading habits, increase English literacy worldwide and build a new generation of readers by making books more affordable and accessible to everyone.

Known as the World’s Biggest Book Sale, the Book Sale is a global reading advocacy that aims to encourage people of all ages to discover the joys of reading and inspire them to pursue their dreams and, importantly, empower them with the knowledge to realise their dreams.

The more knowledge one gains, the better-equipped a person is to meet today’s competitive world’s exacting demands.

Since its inception, Big Bad Wolf Books has evolved and toured 34 cities in 13 countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates. And since 2020, the Big Bad Wolf Online Book Sale has been successfully launched in 10 countries, including Malaysia.

Here Jacqueline and Andrew (above) talk to Inside Recent about what Big Bad Wolf Books specialises in and how it is coping with the Covid Conditions:

With COVID-19 still raging, what will be the Big Bad Wolf books sales like this year in Singapore? What are the challenges that you will be facing?

Andrew: For long we were known for our physical events, so reverting to the online universe was something very new to us. It’s been a very steep learning curve. We had to do everything in a heartbeat to reach our customers online, and we managed it.

Last year was a challenging one. This year, we have been fine tuning what we’ve learnt and trying to improve. We have learnt a lot on how to sell online.

We have had success in many countries. It’s been a real uphill task, but we have found a new model, a very robust system. So, online or offline we can do it.

Do you prefer a physical event? Or do you think that an online event works as well?

Jacqueline: Online definitely will be here to stay. I think now the customer behaviour also has changed. One event we bring in half a million people, every day you have 23,000 people or so, so safety measures have to be in place.

I think there will still be a big concern about physical events among our customers. So I think there will still be some customers who prefer to buy online. So online will definitely be there.

At the same time, online sales also allow us to reach out to people outside the major city. So, in certain countries that we go to, we have to be in the capital city, but it also allows us to take the books to smaller cities, which we can’t do during a physical sale.

So, we actually tried out a hybrid model. A few months ago, when Malaysia actually opened up, we managed to do two sales. We got all the safety measures in place. But these were very low capacity events. We also had online events simultaneously which attracted many people. So I think that will probably be the direction in future.

You started in Malaysia, then you came over to Singapore. Were there any challenges coming over to Singapore and doing sales here?

Andrew: We’ve always been very physical. So the first time in Singapore we didn’t have a database. We were starting from scratch. That was one of the biggest challenges.

In order to click in a new market, usually businesses take a year or two. But our business model was sustainable from the very start. We were fortunate that OCBC was backing us from the very beginning. So, we had a very good customer base.

It would have been ideal to have a physical sale, because people always get their friends and family to come along. That has been our experience in most countries. Now, unfortunately, we don’t have the opportunity to do that, so we went for an online event. We do have the OCBC customer base, but it is a small set of customers. So, that’s not too bad. We are counting word of mouth spread to get more customers.

How do you get more people to join these sales? How do you do the publicity? Is it just word of mouth? What are the other ways you get people to attend?

Andrew: We have invested heavily in marketing, and the media has been very supportive. We just don’t bank on the database. Engagements on social media, Facebook and Instagram are very big for us. So, the videos that influencers put out and selfies are very important for us.

What can people expect from your current sales in Singapore? What can they look forward to?

Jacqueline (above): The event is going to start on August 6. We chose that day because we want to be part of Singapore’s National Day (August 9) celebrations. Everybody understands that it’s quite a difficult time for Malaysia, we are still in lockdown.

But, during an environment like this, there are concerns and we need to support people, even parents who are trying to cope with children at home. They have the additional stress of children not able to go to school and worry that they will fall behind in their studies.

We feel that books are actually something that is a good way to empower people to be positive or read something inspiring. Or at least for parents, a tool to keep their children engaged.

We believe that reading is important, especially during times like this. We have our usual promos, we have a pre-registration promotion and special deals. We are showcasing a lot of books that are not available elsewhere.

We have special offers, like sometimes we sell 90 per cent less than the regular retail price. We also do free shipping and OCBC members get an additional discount. So, customers get a lot of privileges.

Given the current conditions, do you have a lot of books on positive thinking, mental health issues and the like?

Jacqueline (below): Self-help books form one of our biggest categories. We do have a lot of books on mindfulness and how to be happy. For kids, we have picture books and how to do yoga.

We might not have all the latest books. But we have great books that are very cheap. We work with suppliers, publishers and distributors. We especially tell publishers and convince them that they can sell 10 times more by making the books a lot more affordable. So, they become more profitable operations.

Nowadays youngsters mostly get all the news in social media and just stick to reading tidbits of information. Their attention span is very limited. So do you think more people will actually be reading books and buying books?

Andrew: That’s a really interesting question. Before the pandemic, when we started the business, our young adult books didn’t sell well because the teenagers that you’re talking about didn’t read much

We have been trying to promote reading. But a parent cannot force a young adult to read more as they have their own minds. However, after five years into doing that, I still remember it was 2015, suddenly our young adult book section started doing well, wow. We started thinking, we’re getting more young readers, what happened and what changed this year that has caused teenagers to start reading, Then we realised that the children that we have been following, have grown to become young adults. They have become on their own right big readers.

Interestingly, we actually sold 25 million books in one year. That was actually quite a huge accomplishment for us. At that time Jakarta was our biggest market. We realised there were a lot of young people coming when we are open 24 hours. They come in groups and we had the opportunity to actually speak to some of them. They were telling us that they have this movement among the young people where they are getting quite tired of the noise on social media. You know, cyber bullying and other issues that they’re dealing with. So, a lot of them turned to reading.

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