Second chance for secondhand books

Second chance for secondhand books

KUALA LUMPUR: For employees of secondhand online bookstore Books and Bobs, unboxing a box of newly-arrived old books is like opening a treasure chest.

“Although most of them are secondhand or old books, it doesn’t mean that they’re not valuable. You’ll be surprised.

“That’s why we always keep a sharp eye out for autographed or first edition books,” said Books and Bobs founder Rachel Ang.

She said every secondhand book received, whether it is contributed or purchased from the public, has its own value.

“Right after we unbox the secondhand books, we’ll arrange them on the shelves and separate them into fictions and non-fictions.

“Those books that are not in good condition, we’ll put them aside for recycling,” she told Bernama recently.

The book lover-turned-entrepreneur started ‘Books and Bobs’ in July 2016 through the online platform with less than 100 books in her inventory after quitting her job in the marketing industry.

“I was an accountant and insurance agent before I became jobless for a couple of years… I even did online business by selling costume jewellery for about a year. It was a hectic life back then, causing me to fall into depression.

“During that dampened period, I sought solace in books, before gradually venturing into book-selling via Facebook. I started advertising about 50 books from my own collection and new ones on Facebook to my friends and book club members. I later widened my circle by joining an Instagram group for book lovers,” she shared.

Ang said that during the first year, she only conducted her business on a part-time basis, but later decided to run it full-time as her online operation grew.

As a voracious reader, Ang would source her books from bookstores instead of buying new ones at full price to save cost.

“I used to struggle with buying books due to the limited resources. With a relatively high price, I was less willing to try out new and unknown books or authors. So, buying secondhand books has become my best solution.

“Plus, I like to think that we’re actually giving these books a new life as they (the books) are being passed down to another reader to be read and cherished. That is why we are specialised in secondhand books, which make up about 90 per cent of our stock,” she said.

Inspired by a British play called ‘Bits and Bobs’, Ang’s husband suggested that she name her online secondhand bookshop ‘Books and Bobs’. Bits and Bobs is a British slang for objects of different kinds.

“Now we have about 15,000 books in stock and the list keeps increasing,” she said, adding that most of the books are contributions from the public.

She said ‘Books and Bobs’ sells both new and secondhand books, and to help customers decide, the books are graded according to quality, starting from ‘Brand New’, followed by ‘Like New’, ‘Very Good’ and finally ‘Acceptable’.

“I started out by selling non-fiction English books but now I realise there is a market for books on every subject matter.

“For example, books about martial arts and wellness such as ‘Qi Gong’ are among the popular and often requested by our regular customers.

“People appreciate the books I sold to them, and they tell me, ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for this book for some time and I finally found it. It is cheap too. Thank you.’ So that keeps me going and I am very happy with the work I do,” she said.

According to the mother of two girls, as a result of the overwhelming response from the public, her company turned in a sales turnover of RM400,000 last year.

With a team of nine staff including a part-timer, the company is on the right track of registering a sales turnover of RM600,000 this year.

“I believe the enforcement of the MCO (Movement Control Order) is a blessing in disguise,” she said.

Commenting on the reading habit among Malaysians, Ang said the cultivation of reading as a hobby has to start at home, from a young age.

“By reading books, you not only gain more knowledge with real facts but you can always go back to the book, anytime you want.

“Plus, you can also find your own happiness and paradise through imagination when you read novels, as well as improving our vocabulary,” said Ang, adding that her first book that sparked her interest in reading was ‘5 People You Meet In Heaven’.

For Ang, the satisfaction of reading through the Internet is not the same as the excitement of reading real and solid books.

“I prefer holding a solid, physical book as I like the feel when we flip through the pages and smell the books…It is a much more different experience than reading an e-book.

“No matter new or secondhand, these books are so precious,” said Ang who would spend two hours to read her favourite pieces such as motivation books and novels.

Another book enthusiast Abdul Halim Ismail, 54, also transforms his hobby into a reliable source of income.

However, unlike Ang who sells her secondhand books fully online, Abdul Halim believes in having a physical outlet by opening a storage warehouse for his books at Taman Saujana Puchong near here to buyers.

At first sight, the nameless premise looks like a common storage space. But as you step in, your eyes would shift to thousands of books on the shelves.

Over 10,000 secondhand books owned by the former factory manager, a chemical engineering graduate from University of Arkansas, are just waiting to be discovered.

“I started selling my own collection of secondhand books through the eBay platform in 2004,” he said, adding that he had been renting the warehouse since 2017 to sell his book collection which were sourced from the public, educational institutions and companies over the past seven years.

“I have collaborated with a government retiree in selling and collecting secondhand books by van through the Mobile Book Cafe. Later, I used Facebook to promote my books through my pages ‘Coretan Buku Terpakai’ and ‘Buku Terpakai’ as well as the Shopee ABook platform,” he added.

Abdul Halim also leverages on the platform to advertise and market his books which are sold from as low as RM1 to RM300 each.

He said the majority of his customers are fans of old books such as scholarly books and Malay novels.

In addition to receiving various types of books including school textbooks and reference materials as well as magazines of the past, Abdul Halim also helps his customers get books of their choice.

“Many of my customers are also secondhand book collectors, who sought books produced during the British Rule in Malaya as well as literary works of National Laureates, the late Datuk Dr Usman Awang and Datuk Dr A. Samad Said,” he added.

Concurring with Ang, Abdul Halim also believes secondhand books have their own unique attractions and that many people still enjoy reading physical books as opposed to the digital platform.

He said book enthusiasts can visit the warehouse which is open daily from 8 am to 1 pm as well as shop online as the books will be delivered to them via courier. – BERNAMA