Book vending machines arrive in Malaysia

  • Malaysia
  • Friday, 18 Mar 2011

Malaysians will have easier and cheaper access to books soon, thanks to a neat new means of selling them.

Book vending machine

Night time accompaniment for some, daily essence for others. No matter how we describe them, books will always be that one human companion that teaches us things, tugs at our heart strings or gives us a good chuckle on even the worst imaginable Monday possible.

And soon, we will have an easier way to acquire this companion, any time and anywhere – from a vending machine. Malaysians will be the first in this part of the world to be able to do so, thanks to MPH Bookstores Sdn Bhd.

Donald Kee, COO of the bookstore chain, explains how the idea came about: “We wanted to come up with a way in which we could reach our customers instead of waiting for them to come to us. It would not be possible for us to open shops everywhere, that would too expensive.

“Anyway, customers these days are more tuned into the mass market. They follow the best-sellers’ list, so we do not need an entire shop, as the majority of our sales is from a small selection of books. This is how the idea of the vending machine came about.”

Necessity, that mother of invention, also had a hand in sparking this bright idea. The book industry is facing a major upheaval with the advent of digital books and e-readers like the Kindle and the conventional way of doing things just will not do any longer.

As Kee says, “Rental prices are going up, and only having a retail outlet is not sufficient to keep a business going any more.

“Besides that, with giving 40% to 50% discounts on books and offering services such as delivery to your doorstep, it is hard for chains like us to compete.

“With the birth of e-books, customers now do not even have to buy a book. They can just download it and can read it from wherever they are. These devices are getting cheaper and are becoming more accessible to everyone.

“So if the readers can have this convenience, why would they come to the store with the trouble of travel and parking, just to buy a book?

Thus begins the story of the book vending machine in Malaysia. According to Kee, a prototype is currently at the testing stage; MPH aims to launch the final versions in the Klang Valley at the KL Bookfair next month.

This is a new territory for MPH so the company has thoroughly explored and analysed the challenges that come with this new sales avenue.

“We are going to place the machines in universities, hospitals, banks, office buildings and LRT (Light Rail Transit) stations.

“The stock will be changed often so every time someone walks past it, they will see new books,” says Kee.

Kee and his team are under no illusions that all this talk about convenience and innovation are sufficient propositions to attract customers. Thus, the book vending machines’ main selling point is that MPH will be able to offer books at a discounted price.

The books in the machines will be at least 20% lower in price than those sold in brick and mortar stores, with the possibility of bigger discounts later on.

This is thanks to the low rental cost and minimal manpower wages needed for this marketing method.

The machines will have a touch screen so customers can read synopses. And in the future, says Kee, MPH will try to add book reviews and other features. Payment modes include credit cards, debit cards and the Touch‘n’Go toll and fare cards.

Kee feels that this is a necessary step to keep the Malaysian book retail industry moving forward in the face of inevitable changes.

“We are not putting aside the importance of our retail section. We just want to offer different avenues and models to our customers, to let them choose which ways they are most comfortable with.

“Also, as part of our 105th anniversary this year, we want to show that we are looking forward and are ready to move past all the troubling issues surrounding the book retail industry,” adds Kee. - By Geoffrey Yeow

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