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Sunday September 2, 2007

Bounty of books

Is your wallet taking a beating from high book prices? Worse, are you running out of space for your library? Here are two alternatives for bibliophiles.

JACQUELINE Ng has learned to spot the serious reader. “They are the ones hovering around when I’m unpacking new stock, making sure they don’t miss the latest bargain,” laughs the owner of BookXcess. 

Since it opened in Petaling Jaya late last year, BookXcess has garnered quite a loyal following and for good reason: it is literally low prices every day here. 

Located in Amcorp Mall, BookXcess is probably the Klang Valley’s best-kept bibliographic secret. Although Ng says that the outlet was initially “an experiment”, the bookshop has done well enough for her to invest in a larger store that she moved into last month.  

“Now, we have 3,000sq ft (more than 270sq m) and can display about 15,000 books,” says Ng. And, they are all brand new and available at unbelievable prices. 

You may not find the latest publications here, but you can get your hands on hardback copies of A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (he of the Whitbread award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time fame) and Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day for RM24.90 each. 

Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and Donald Sassoon’s The Culture of the Europeans: From 1800 to the Present are both RM29.90 each in hardback. Yes, hardback. 

Football fans might be interested in England 1966 World Cup hero Geoff Hurst’s 1966 And All That or the official biography of Chelsea FC: The Definitive Story of the First 100 Years (complete with a foreword by Roman Abramovich). Both titles are available in hardback and sport RM29.90 price tags.  

You’ll also find paperback crime fiction going for RM17.90 each, Nancy Drews at RM9.90, Lemony Snickets for RM19.90 and the official autobiography of Aussie rock band INXS at RM9.90. 

In case you’re wondering, there is no catch and, no, these books did not fall off the back of a truck. 

All the books in this store are remainders or overprints. Remainders are unsold books returned to publishers by bookstores and distributors, while overprints happen when publishers overestimate demand. 

“Previously, publishers would just pulp these unsold books when their warehouses are full,” Ng says.  

“Now that there’s a demand for these books, they are happy to get back something from their original investment.” 

BookXcess is part of a worldwide consortium that buys these books in bulk from publishers like Bloomsbury, HarperCollins, Headline-Hodder, Random House, Paragon, Penguin and Walker. 

“The publishers want to get the books out of their warehouses to make space for more books coming in, so they just pack everything and send them out,” Ng explains. 

The number of books shipped out is mind boggling – literally in the hundreds of thousands – and BookXcess, one of the smallest members of the consortium, gets about 8,000 new titles every two to three weeks. 

Presently, there are plans to open a store in Penang by the year-end, followed by another in Johor Baru. Ultimately, Ng would like to set up a hypermarket-size bookstore in Malaysia. 

“Something about 200,000sq ft (about 18,500sq m), with free parking and other amenities, so you can just spend the whole day browsing through rows and rows of books.” 

In the meantime, Ng is happy to concentrate on the store in Amcorp Mall. 

“You might not think it, but Amcorp Mall is quite the book hub. Apart from us, there are four other stores that sell books, including two offering second-hand books; on the weekends, there are numerous stalls (at the mall’s increasingly popular flea market) that sell books. 

The new location offers a colourful, friendly atmosphere – and lots of books!
“I think it’s great for both businesses like us and readers – the bigger variety will draw more customers and everybody wins.” 

Ng is upbeat about the business model that BookXcess is offering. 

“To be frank, books are a luxury in Malaysia. They are expensive – just ask any parent who is looking to buy quality children’s books. 

“We might not always have exactly what you’re looking for, but I’m sure you’ll find something just as interesting and at a very, very decent price.” 

There will be more than just books to look forward to in the new BookXcess store. Apart from its bright, friendly colours, Ng has been careful about the staff she hires. 

“All those who work here must love books and reading,” she says. “I really don’t see how they can be helpful to customers if they don’t like books.” 

Also in the pipeline is a membership card that gives members a bigger discount if they spend more. 

The card will be free with a minimum RM100 purchase and members will receive a 5% discount on subsequent purchases of RM50 while those who spent RM150 and above will enjoy discounts of 10%. 

“The discounts are available for everything in the store, including promotional items,” Ng explains. “And holders of these cards are automatically entitled to a 10% discount on all items.” 

Free book- and gift-wrapping will be introduced soon, while a website, which will also be launched soon, will keep customers informed of new stock and allow them to reserve titles they are interested in. 

The main thing for Ng is to make book buying both affordable and exciting. 

“Sure, we’re in this business to make money, but we can do this while making sure the reader gets something worthwhile and enjoys the experience at the same time. 

“We’re trying to push the envelope where books are concerned in Malaysia. We started out as a no-frills business and we intend to remain that way. 

“We want this to be a place where you come by any day – that includes when you’re having a bad day – and find something that will cheer you up. 

“We chose our tagline – ‘Read More for Less’ – because that is really what we are about.” 

  • BookXcess is located at L3-57, Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya. Details: 03-7956 0455.  

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