One For The Books

14 December 2016

Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng of BookXcess – which turns ten this year – and the Big Bad Wolf book sales have made it their mission in life to make books affordable and accessible to all in Malaysia and beyond.
Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng, partners in business and in life, do not judge a book by its cover – the two judge it by its price. It’s been ten years since the husband-and-wife team founded BookXcess, the bargain bookstore selling remainder books in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya in 2006. They’ve since expanded from a two-person team to employ over a hundred employees with six retail bookstores in the Klang Valley and an online bookstore that ships nationwide. To top it all off, they’ve also hosted the Big Bad Wolf book sale – the world’s biggest – annually since 2009.

The annual Big Bad Wolf Book sale is the world’s biggest.

“We do feel a sense of accomplishment,” says Jacqueline. “The bookstore started with a simple mission: to increase readership in Malaysia. We’re happy that we’ve been able to reach out to Malaysians. I mean, Malaysians never used to associate books with leisure, but now I see children pulling their mothers in through the door of our sales and our stores, and they’ve got smiles on their faces – that’s something that brings us so much satisfaction.”

Partners in business and in life: Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng.

In the beginning, the two cut their teeth selling magazines in a small shop. A magazine supplier-turned-book supplier introduced them to the remainder book industry; to elaborate, remainder books are books that have “remained” in a publisher’s warehouse after the publisher has printed more books than they have sold. That was when they realised that they could buy overprint and overrun copies of books at a much lower price, and in turn, sell said books at a much lower price, too.

This year has been a banner year for their business: Big Bad Wolf is back in Kuala Lumpur with four million books sold at 75 percent to 95 percent off, and features, for the first time, Chinese titles and tomes. Andrew, Jacqueline and the team brought the Wolf beyond borders to Jakarta, Indonesia and Thailand’s Bangkok this year in May and August respectively, and will also be in China next year.

The first Book Xcess outlet in Amcorp Mall.

Times are tough for brick-and-mortar bookstores, but Andrew and Jacqueline are the buoys that keep the business afloat. BookXcess – and Big Bad Wolf – isn’t simply surviving; it’s thriving.

The books sold at Book Xcess and the Big Bad Wolf sale are neither old, secondhand or damaged.

“Our strengths are different; Andrew has built wonderful relationships with our suppliers over the years, he’s the marketing man, and I take care of operations,’ Jacqueline says.  

“In a nutshell, she gets the books on the table, I get the people to come,” adds Andrew.

But the journey, according to the two, hasn’t been easy.

“This is not a ringgit and sen business,” explains Jacqueline. “This is a business with a business model in which we make things very difficult for ourselves – or at least that’s what everyone says.”

The two insist that their books are sold at bargain prices, at times even at the risk of their bottom line – and they have no budget for anything else, such as “for advertising, for marketing, and for venues that are too expensive”.

“We needed convention centres for the sales – and convention centres don’t come cheap – and we couldn’t afford any in the Klang Valley,” Jacqueline says. “They’d tell us, ‘Why are you making things so difficult for yourselves? Why can’t you charge admission fees like everyone else?’ At the end of the day, people don’t do business the way we do. Business is commercial, it’s calculative.”

In spite of – or perhaps because of – the fact that the two did not grow up surrounded by shelves after shelves of books and were late-blooming lovers of literature, they’ve made it their mission to make books affordable and accessible for all Malaysians.

“It’s not that Malaysians don’t like to read; it’s not that Malaysians don’t know how to read. We’re literate. People like me and Andrew, our families didn’t have books in the house, our parents weren’t readers – and because we didn’t come from that sort of background, where one is blessed with books so early on, we have never taken books for granted,” says Jacqueline.

“We’ve found that money cannot be an issue – or it should not be an issue. Books are such a basic necessity that to us, it’s unfair that people don’t read because they can’t afford to buy books.”

The business is their baby, say Andrew and Jacqueline. A lot of their time, if not all, is dedicated to their business – which means work-life balance is far beyond their reach, at least for the moment. Still, the two love their work, to the point that it doesn’t feel like work.  

And what’s not to love? Big Bad Wolf exceeded all expectations in Indonesia and Thailand; when Andrew, Jacqueline and the team brought two million books abroad to the two countries and sold 95 percent of their stock.

“Everyone, even the locals, was surprised. To me, it’s a good thing that the industry players over there can see that there’s a demand for books; they can then serve their customers better, too,” Jacqueline says. 

“Books don’t discriminate nationalities,” concludes Andrew.

By Ng Su Ann

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