Novel Ideas: Andrew Yap And Jacqueline Ng Are Propagating Worldwide Literacy
The delicious irony about Malaysia Tatler’s meeting with Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng is this: that our face-to-face encounter can be credited to the demise of print magazines. Owners of a magazine store once upon a time, the duo switched their focus to books just as the digital revolution was getting under way. “I realised that magazines were slowly being overtaken by digital media. Only the best of the best have survived. It’s good that you guys are still around,” says Andrew kindly. “Many have not made it.”
“Being in the magazine industry, we got to know people who work with books,” elucidates Jacqueline, a Singaporean now based on our soil. “It was a natural progression, though not one without blood, sweat and tears.”
In Our Good Books
But it is also with magazines that their story begins, in March 2007. Those living around Taman Jaya may harbour fond memories of Reissued, a well-loved magazine store in Amcorp Mall. Backdated periodicals on every topic imaginable, from fashion to gardening and audio to automobiles, lined its shelves and filled its racks. Best of all, everything was priced at RM9.90—no more, no less. “We have always considered the cost of living in this country too high,” laments Andrew. “Jacq and I wanted to build a business that could, one: aid our fellow Malaysians, and two: contribute to society.”
Never losing sight of their mission, the couple, who hold the reins at Big Bad Wolf Books and the BookXcess chain, have been providing the public with easy access to low-priced reading materials for the past decade. Mid-2018 saw the inauguration of Malaysia’s first 24/7 bookstore in Tamarind Square, Cyberjaya. A mammoth next to a mouse, the new 37,000 square feet facility is seven times the size of what Reissued was.
Milestones in between 2007 and 2018 include the first Big Bad Wolf Book Sale at Dataran Hamodal, Selangor in 2009, opening six other physical branches of BookXcess,
and growing the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale to an international scale; Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, the Emirates, Bangladesh and China are but a few host countries. “In 2019, we will target 30 different countries including Uganda. By 2025, our goal is to reach a hundred different countries per year,” states a sanguine Andrew.
“Our events occupy some two hundred thousand square feet, which is double the size of most book fairs,” adds Jacqueline. While the numbers are too colossal for us to churn on the spot, two questions remain at the forefront:
How did a Malaysian and Singaporean duo come to be responsible for the world’s biggest book sale? And why isn’t their story being told the world over?
“Reading is actually an addiction,” believes Andrew, who laps up non-fiction by the crateful. “I’m especially passionate about it as I never grew up with books. My public school classmates who were mostly from good family backgrounds grew up reading, and I could really see the difference. That’s why we price books so low at Big Bad Wolf and BookXcess—so that if anyone goes, they won’t worry about cost.”
Jacqueline, herself a fan of light-hearted fiction, says, “Our target is very different from that of bookstores, which attempt to attract readers. We aspire to attract non- readers. Readers will naturally gravitate towards books. The challenge is how to pique curiosity among the less literate.”
Rummaging through towers of books in their artsy office, Jacqueline finally finds the pirated copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban she’d been looking for. “I visited Dhaka’s largest bookstore and discovered—despite the full cafe and positive ambience—that their entire book collection amounted to less than what we’d find in our cooking aisles. As such, everyone settles for black market books.” A strong odour, reminiscent of petroleum, pervades the room as I thumb through the book’s translucent paper printed with irregular font.
“You can literally get high from the smell of the paper,” jokes Andrew. “But in all seriousness, there are many parts of the world that need books badly.”
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Too devoted to their mission to seek any sort of limelight, Andrew and Jacqueline are constantly on the road. The Big Bad Wolf Books Sale travels on an almost monthly basis. Sometimes dates clash, and when that happens, two teams are sent in separate directions.
“There is no precedent for us to follow,” admits Andrew. “Picture building a bicycle while cycling it!”
“But we’ve come a long way,” reflects Jacqueline. “Our first sale with its hundred thousand books was more difficult compared to the recent one in Jakarta carrying five million books. It was just us two and neither knew how to run an event. We were both so green.”
“In the past, everyone took the book business for a sunset industry. No one invested in it and no one bothered, but we were there all along, learning and growing. Now, we’re riding on a high wave,” enthuses Andrew.
“Our operation feels like a cowboy outfit, but we’re doing amazing things around the world."
"We have millions of fans and we go from strength to strength. I’m grateful that everyone in our team puts our mission first, which is: ‘Saving the world with books.’ And we’re really lucky that this little company in Shah Alam, Malaysia is doing it.”