One for the books
Books could be the cheapest form of travel, entertainment or education. Without scrounging for a seat sale or prowling for cheap accommodations, one could travel to lands far away, grab front-row seats to moments that defined a nation, or pick the mind of a famous figure. Books are relatively cheap, but in a country where millions could barely make ends meet, books could be a luxury, even to the comfortable middle class.
In the last 10 days, the Big Bad Wolf has unsurprisingly made waves online. Crowds trooped to the World Trade Center for the 24-hour operation like pilgrims to a sacred mecca. Social media has been peppered with book haul posts of P10,000-poorer yet satisfied and happy customers.
What is now a regional operation that traverses Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand started just a decade ago in a 500-square feet bookstore in Malaysia. The husband-and-wife tandem of Jacqueline Ng and Andrew Yap bootstrapped BookXcess by putting up their first shop in a mall in the Malaysian city of Petaling Jaya.
“We started knowing that the price of a book is a big factor to begin with especially for countries where currencies are weak and buying books can become a luxury item,” Ng says. “But books should not be limited to certain people. It should be accessible to everybody of any income group. Kids [especially] should not be deprived. That is something important that we want to do.”
The couple took a leap of faith by staging the first Big Bad Wolf sale in 2009 where they sold over a hundred thousand books sold at much cheaper prices compared to the titles in their little shop. The books offered in this spectacular sale were remaindered, or the overruns sold at a substantial discount by publishers from their initial print runs.
The couple decided on the name “Big Bad Wolf” to attract kids to the event, like how the character has been luring children in stories despite being a menacing villain. (This time, however, even parents have become willing victims.)
“It’s a marketing tool as kids don’t want to read nowadays and having an event which is fun and with a character like that may attract kids to our event,” Yap says.
An estimated two million books have been put on sale in the event—enough to fill the World Trade Center. It’s a daunting number, albeit sparking a tempting challenge when it was first laid out to their local partner.
“It really intrigued me as to how we can bring two million books to the Philippines,” says Luis Oquiñena, executive director of Gawad Kalinga. “That alone led to a handshake.”
Yap and Ng met Oquiñena last year in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia when the couple attended a Gawad Kalinga conference there. The Gawad Kalinga team later visited one of the couple’s bookstores where they connected on the advocacy of bringing books to non-readers.
“They have a team that already knows the science of holding something like this so they brought the books and we brought the people,” Oquiñena says.
For Gawad Kalinga, a foundation known for building houses for the poor, helping expand access to books also touches on their core advocacy of helping uplift those left at the margins of society. (As part of the partnership, a portion of the proceeds will go to Gawad Kalinga projects in the country).
“It can really increase your aspirations when our people, especially the young, in the poorest areas begin to aspire through reading,” Oquiñena said. “By reading and knowing the stories, they will begin to aspire—that compels people to work harder and dream as they are able to see a better and brighter future. Reading is a powerful tool of conveying and encouraging that aspirational value to the young especially the poor.”
It’s a view that Yap shares as well.
“Books allow you to live in another person’s life. You start to be more creative, more empathetic, makes you understand how it is to live in a different part of the world. A child should not be deprived of that,” Yap says.
Yap and Ng both acknowledge they took to books much later.
Ng says he remembers growing with his classmates doing well due to the help of books, while he usually gets left behind.
“I never grew up with books so I knew how important it is when you have books around you as a child,” Ng says.
As a teenager, Yap says her idea of books was that these were for entertainment, and thus luxury.
“I was only introduced to such books when I was 14 years old through a classmate who [gave] me a novel. I still remember it was Sidney Sheldon’s If Tomorrow Comes,” Yap says. “We were [in the] lower income and didn’t have the luxury to spend on books.”
To sustain and replenish their Big Bad Wolf stocks, Yap and Ng says they scour for remaindered books by visiting at least 10 countries a year. (Thousands of titles from many genres will still be available up to 11:59 tonight.)
To be sure, bargain book sales in the country are actually nothing new. There are a number of existing shops in malls and other locations that already provide marked down titles. The Manila International Book Fair has also been going on for quite some time, providing various discounts from various vendors.
The Big Bad Wolf, however, made a mark with its buffet of titles on offer round-the-clock at vastly marked down prices. The usual books that go for over P500 are set at P190-P290. A number of hardbound books are priced above P500 while some premium ones are over P1,000.
Still, with the sheer number of titles on display, it’s still a hit-or-miss affair. Not everything you will hunt for may be there, but you may probably end up with titles you did not know you wanted in the first place.
But the most appealing nature of the Big Bad Wolf is the sea of books that anybody could dive right into with nary an entrance fee at any time of the day.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea to have a 24-hour bookshop and books with discounted prices,” says Ige Ramos, a food writer and book designer who binged on cookbooks during the Big Bad Wolf. “Events like this might help promote a reading culture, but reading should be cultivated at a very young age. If your parents are not readers, chances are the offspring wouldn’t pick up a book when he turns into an adult.”
In an era pockmarked by mentally debilitating memes, blighted by the proliferation of vicious and poisonous fake news propaganda online, and warped by the social media’s increasingly abbreviated attention span, seeing a sea of people go gaga over books is something of a humbling experience.
Whether it’s a Sidney Sheldon paperback, a Nick Joaquin classic, or a Slavoj Zizek tome, there is no denying the book’s power and magic beyond what a myopic meme or a raw tweet could provide. It’s a kind of magic that everyone should get to experience, rich or poor alike. —CONTRIBUTED
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