Amir Muhammad, founder of indie publishing company Buku Fixi, has always wanted to open a 'real' bookstore. And this year, he’s done just that. Kedai Fixi, his labour of love, opened last week in the Jaya Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya. Amir, however, reveals he once had far loftier ambitions for this shop.
“I always wanted to open a bookstore, even before I became a publisher! But I wanted to open a bookshop and a cinematheque and a coffeeshop, all in one. It was based on certain things I saw in other cities, especially Manila,” Amir says during an interview last week at the store.
“For now, though, this is a practical first step. There’s a danger for a lot of people that are not very business minded. They spend your money on a place they’d like to hang out in. Well, this is not a place for you to hang out. You come in, spend your money, and get out!” he laughs.
While Amir’s three-in-one fun centre may sadly still be a dream, book lovers can still rejoice in the opening of Kedai Fixi, which will be stocked with titles from Buku Fixi, and its imprints Fixi Novo (English-language Malaysian books), Fixi Mono (non-fiction), Fixi Retro (reprints of old Malay-language classics), and Fixi Verso (Malay translations of current international bestsellers).
“We had more and more titles, and it felt like it would be good to have as many titles as we had, under one roof,” Amir says. “Because you can’t completely rely on other bookstores. Their priority is to sell their most popular things, and their shelf space is limited. And I think there are more things we can do with our own place.”
The bookstore opened its doors on Thursday and Amir held a launch event on Saturday, with Ridhwan Saidi, Mim Jamil, and Anuar Shah, the authors of Buku Fixi titles Brazil, Lari, and Pentas, respectively.
The store is the latest milestone for Buku Fixi, which was established in 2011. Not bad for a company that apparently began with the small ambition of filling one niche in the local publishing industry.
As the story goes, Amir was first inspired to start Buku Fixi after noticing that the Malay-language fiction nominees in a local book awards ceremony all had “rindu”, “kasih” or “cinta” in their titles.
In a Star2 interview about his new business in 2011 (Foray into fiction, June 14), Amir shared that he had been told that market leaders in Malay language publishing were romance novels. “I am not going to be quoted as saying that they’re bad or anything, but I just want something slightly different. Because a lot of these books seem to be targeted at young Malay women – but what about the rest of the population?”
When the company began, it published Malay-language urban, contemporary novels, mostly in the pulp fiction, noir, horror, crime, and thriller genres.
Today, Buku Fixi books, as well as titles from its many imprints, regularly top local bestseller charts, and several of them have won major local literary awards.
Buku Fixi also picked up the Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award at the London Book Festival in April last year.
“Demand has been getting better every year,” Amir says. “Eventually it will peak one of these days. Hopefully not this year! But it means we will have to diversify. We have to keep trying new things.”
And with the opening of Kedai Fixi, he is certainly doing that.
Yet, with the economy not doing particularly well of late, it may seem like an uncertain time to go into any business, particularly one as unpredictable as books.
After all, it’s not as if Malaysia teems with independent bookstores; while there are several established ones – notably Silverfish Books in the Klang Valley and Gerakbudaya Bookshop and Areca Books in Penang – most are passion projects, uncommon due to competition from the major bookstore chains.
But Amir maintains he is ready for this new venture.
Asked what challenges he expects to face, he replies, “getting people to come”.
“We’ll see how it goes lah,” he adds. “We’ll see how things are in the first few weeks, and decide where to go from there.”
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