Dubai: Who would have thought that a man who grew up deprived of books would one day become the founder of the biggest book sale in the world? Or maybe, it was because of his natural ability to make quick and firm decisions — combined with trusting his instincts — that led him to becoming a trailblazer in the book distribution industry?
Malaysian national Andrew Yap, 45, co-founder and managing director of ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ is an ‘alpha wolf’. His mission is to go around the world and offer “affordable and accessible” books. He has done this by serving till date more than five million happy bookworms and selling more than 30 million books in 34 cities across 13 countries and territories, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and the UAE.
His rise to success is like a fairy tale in itself, including how he turned a villainous character in a children’s book into a global reading advocate.
‘The boy who cried books’
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News, Yap started by saying he was deprived of having books when he was a child and it has made him feel insecure. He said: “I did not grow up with books. I knew how important reading is to a child. In the school I went to, everyone grew up with books and I felt the difference between a child who grew up with books and someone who did not. Those who were exposed to books at an early age had better comprehension and better general knowledge.”
“It was like a childhood trauma. I felt stupid, but there was no reading culture at home,” said Yap, adding: “That’s why I wanted to make sure books would become accessible and affordable to everyone. So, it has become my lifelong mission to make books accessible. Reading makes a big difference. Books are powerful,” he added.
Yap explained the problem was not lack of curiosity or passion for education, but access to affordable reading material. To make books accessible to and affordable for everyone, he turned into a reading advocate. “Because reading books can change people’s lives and inspire them to dream big,” he commented.
‘Once upon a time’
Like in a fairy tale, Yap also had ‘once upon a time’ humble beginnings. Yap and his wife Jacqueline — who got hooked onto reading only once she was in high school, after a friend gifted her Sidney Sheldon’s ‘If Tomorrow Comes’ — started their business in 2003 at a small magazine stand in Kuala Lumpur.
Yap told Gulf News: “We named our store Nine-Ninety magazine shop, because we were selling magazines at 9.90 Malaysian ringgit (1 Malaysian ringgit is equivalent to 85 fils). Those magazines were two months past their publication dates, but they were really cheap and they were top US and UK titles. Magazines actually have no expiration date and when we sold them at really cheap prices, they went off the shelves quickly,”
Following the success of their magazine stand, Yap and his wife then ventured into selling books in 2007 at a very low price. Yap said: “We named our store BookXcess, because our objective was to give access to people and we were selling excess books.” Yap bought books in bulk at an attractive price, which enabled him to sell them for big discounts. Seeing that people loved buying books, the idea then came to Yap to hold a big book sale event. He could sell more books at a book sale event than what he could sell in a year at his brick-and-mortar store. Removing the cost of renting a shop for one year, Yap figured out would enable him to further cut down on the price of books. Thus, ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ was born in 2009. “The catchy name caught the interest of people, because it sounded foreign,” Yap quipped. “It was my marketing ploy to use ‘Big Bad Wolf’. The name was creatively adapted to attract young readers with the iconic fairy-tale character that their parents are familiar with,” he explained.
I guess we were destined to do what we had to do. We were lucky to have met people — publishers and partners — from around the world who supported us in our journey. We did not back down when big stores told us to shut down. We actually went ahead because we wanted to shut everybody up. They created a monster — and this monster turned up really good.
The hunt is on
The first ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ was held in May 2009 at Dataran Hamodal in Petaling Jaya. This was followed by another event at Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, in November the following year, with more than 150,000 books offered at massively reduced prices. Yap described it like a ‘hit-and-run’ event. He converted a warehouse into a store for a short gig. He was able to deliver books at very low prices.
In 2011, the ‘Big Bad Wolf Books Sale’ grew double in size, offering 300,000 books on discount at South City Plaza, Seri Kembangan in Kuala Lumpur. By September 2012, the ‘Big Bad Wolf Books Sale’ was rolled out as the ‘World’s Biggest Book Sale’ with 1.5 million books on sale in Kuala Lumpur. The event also lasted for 11 days at Malaysia Agro Exposition Park.
The 'lone wolf'
As the popularity of ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ grew, Yap gained ‘notoriety’ for being a game changer in the book distribution business. “I became notorious for disrupting the industry,” said Yap, adding: “Big distribution companies were affected and they even asked the publishers to make me stop my business model.”
But Yap remained unfazed. He was like a hungry ‘wolf’, but also patient and cunning. Instead of retreating, ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ headed out of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in 2016 to bring affordable books to more Malaysians in six other states, including Kuantan, Johor Bahru, Kuala Terengganu, Ipoh, Penang, and Malacca.
The following year, in 2017, ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ went international and spread to Jakarta, Bangkok and Colombo. In February 2018, ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ reached the Philippines for the first time, opening a book sale in Manila, followed by another successful event in Cebu in July the same year.
In August 2018, the world’s biggest book sale landed in Taipei, Taiwan, before coming to the Middle East — in Dubai, for the first time in October that year.
Gathering the 'pack'
Now, after 13 years, ‘Big Bad Wolf Books’ has become a global reading movement, present in 34 cities, across 13 countries, with plans to grow this year in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Uganda and Kenya.
Looking back, Yap said it was like “the stars aligned” for him and his wife. “I guess we were destined to do what we had to do. We were lucky to have met people — publishers and partners — from around the world who supported us in our journey. We did not back down when big stores told us to shut down. We actually went ahead because we wanted to shut everybody up. They created a monster — and this monster turned up really good,” he added.
Yap said his biggest satisfaction was to see crowds gathering at ‘Big Bad Wolf Books Sale’ hunting for books and finding out that “they read happily ever after”.
Go book hunting:
‘Big Bad Wolf Books Sale’ is open daily, 24 hours, until April 24.
Over 1 million books available.
Discounts from 50%-80%.
Entry is free for all.
Venue: Sound Stages, Dubai Studio City