Will it be a bestseller?

Why are some books in a store and not others? SIMRIT KAUR talks to the person who decides this.  

IF YOU love books, working in a library would probably be your idea of heaven. The next best thing is to have a job in a major book store, just like Abby Wong of Kinokuniya Bookstores in Suria KLCC. 

Wong, who is the merchandising manager for English books, made the leap from stock broking to book buying at the age of 31.  

“I love reading books and it was time for a change,’’ she says of her decision. 

Wong (right) often goes down to the sales floor in Kinokuniya to check on the display.

Kinokuniya was the first large bookstore with an open concept where customers were encouraged to browse amid comfortable surroundings. 

Books were not wrapped, a common  

practice overseas but almost unheard of here. 

Among the projects that Wong had a hand in was Gems of the Month – highlighting lesser-known but quality books to the Malaysian public through a discount. 

“This can be a tough job. There are so many books in the market covering so many different areas. Before buying a book, we evaluate it based on three criteria – cover, title and subject matter. Having said that there are some books that you know instinctively can sell well. “ 

One of the books Wong successfully marketed recently was Alwaleed: Businessman Billionaire Prince by Riz Khan about a Saudi Prince who has large business interests in this region. Although a hardback and costing over RM100, it sold out within a month. 

Of course, the downside is when titles do not sell well and books have to be returned to the supplier.  

WONG: To enjoy this job, you must like allkinds of books and be widely-read.

“We display the books on the shelves for a maximum of seven months as we need to maintain a certain level of freshness.” 

One book that did not do as well as expected, says Wong was Charlaine Harris’ Grave sight. 


My job involves...  

...buying books, CDs, stationery and magazines. We decide which ones to buy and in what quantity. Sometimes we source for the books ourselves instead of waiting for suppliers to give us feedback. 

In a bookstore, you should have a range of both old and new titles – we have about 150,000 in this store. 

We don’t just sit in the store and wait for the books to sell – we promote them  

through campaigns in the mediaand in the store.  

I also deal with suppliers and fill out purchase orders as well as help with sales and serve customers.  


My morning starts off with.... 

Going through e-mail and faxes.  

I work from 9.30am to 6.15pm and sometimes stay back later especially during busy periods ie Christmas.  

To qualify, you need... 

A bachelor’s degree in any field. I have a double major in business and mathematics from the University of Kansas in the United States.  

Apart from academic qualifications, one needs to be well-read and stay abreast of current affairs.  

One must have a good grasp of general knowledge as there is a need to oversee different sections – from lifestyle to business and finance. I read a lot including magazines like Time and Newsweek.  

I also buy books for the business, science and engineering, comics and self-enhancement categories. 


The best person for the job...  

Someone who is versatile and likes all sorts of books, not just one genre. You should also be adventurous and try different things. We had a literature major who requested children’s books and a chef who wanted to do the music section. You must be outgoing, articulate and have good communication skills to be able to serve customers and deal with suppliers 


Prospects for the future... 

This is a growing industry and more people with expertise in the book trade will be needed. 


I love my job because...  

I am able to advise people on what books are worth reading. It’s easier to sell books that I myself believe in and have read. It is also nice to be able to introduce lesser known authors – especially those from Europe, the Middle East and Latin America – to the Malaysian public including Nobel prizewinner Naguib Mahfouz. 


What I dislike most...  

When my instincts fail me and I buy books that don’t sell. 


Will I be a millionaire by 30.. 

There is a belief that retail pays less, but I think the remuneration is pretty reasonable, we are paid overtime and it is a five-day week. 

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