Given The New Publishing Standard only launched in September 2017, 2018 is is our first full calendar year, and our first opportunity to look back on the year and select the outstanding publishing stories, publishing people and publishing industry journals of 2018.
Needless to say, being TNPS we were looking at the stories, people and industry journals that had a global impact, and on more than one occasion throughout the year.
That helped narrow the field but still there were plenty of contenders.
But for the TNPS Story of the Year eventually went, as the headline will have told you, to Jacqueline Ng’s and Andrew Yap’s phenomenal Big Bad Wolf operation.
Regular readers of TNPS will have seen our coverage of the Big Bad Wolf book sales through the year, and will know the numbers have been as stunning as the locations were unlikely.
For those less familiar, Big Bad Wolf is a series of pop-up book sales. Big Bad Wolf, based in Malaysia, takes books to cities in neighbouring countries in, initially, SE Asia and sells them to eager booklovers.
But wait, there’s more. These book sales are big. As in, the biggest book sales in the world. And no, Amazon has nothing to do with this.
How big is big? Try a minimum of one million books –new, printed books, and mostly English-language – shipped in containers to each venue.
I stress one million minimum, shipped to the target city where hundreds of booklovers rush to buy. No make that thousands. Actually, no, make that hundreds of thousands.
These pop-up sales typically last eleven days, running 24/7.
We’ll return to the numbers shortly. First, let me hand over the Big Bad Wolf founders, Jacqueline Ng and Andrew Yap from BookXcess.
Our mission is simple. To make reading accessible to EVERYONE around the world.
Today, books are seen as a luxury to many. Approximately 3% of the world’s population are being catered to by the book industry today. The remaining 97% are non-readers or do not have the opportunity to buy NEW books at affordable prices.
It’s a crying shame because books are the ultimate PEOPLE BUILDERS yet they are kept away from the hands of the people that need it the most.
We want to change this. Knowledge must never be a privilege. It must be accessible to all. BBW’s mandate is to change the world, one books at a time.
It is a platform for people of all walks of life to find all sorts of books at affordable prices. What’s more our 11 day 24 format is a key feature that gives anyone and everyone a chance to visit the sale.
Why are we growing so fast? It’s not about the profits. It’s about the people. Can you imagine a world where EVERYONE has the opportunity to own a book? It’s the type of world we all deserve to live in.
Big Bad Wolf describes itself as .
A big dysfunctional family that stretches across borders, 400 people strong, of multiple nationalities – Malaysians – Singaporeans – Indonesians – Vietnamese – Filipinos – Sri Lankans – Mauritians.
Okay, so let’s talk numbers. You might want to be sitting down for this.
As recently as 2015, Big Bad Wolf was just a Malaysia event, happening since 2009. Then in 2016 Big Bad Wolf made its first foray outside its home country.
In 2016 Big Bad Wolf took books to Bangkok in Thailand, and to Jakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia, alongside its Malaysia events.
In 2017 Big Bad Wolf went back to those same cities and also added Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.
Then 2018 arrived and Big Bad Wolf’s confidence grew.
In 2018 Big Bad Wolf visited 16 cities in 7 countries.
This year Big Bad Wolf held 5 events in Malaysia: Sarawak, Ipoh, Melaka, Penang and the big one, Kuala Lumpur. The smaller events “only” had one million books each. The big event in Kuala Lumpur, that finished earlier this month, had 4.5 million books. But no, it wasn’t the biggest.
The biggest was Jakarta in Indonesia, where a total of 5.5 million books were up for grabs – 4.5 million of them in English – at a 24.7 eleven day sale that attracted 750,000 visitors. The other two Indonesia events were in Surabaya and Medan, respectively laying on 3 million and 2 million books.
But Indonesia wasn’t the only country to warrant three sales events.
Despite only debuting in the Philippines this year, Big Bad Wolf proved so successful they had to go back twice more, with three visits, to Manila (2 million books), Cebu and Davao (1 million each).
Big Bad Wolf also went back to Sri Lanka (1.5 million), of course, and this time it made two trips to Thailand, one in Bangkok (3 million) and one in Chiang Mai.
But that still wasn’t enough for Jacqueline Ng and Andrew Yap. Because in between all that they also debuted in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates with 3 million books and in Taipei in Taiwan with 2 million.
Here’s how those numbers stacked up:
The total duration of Big Bad Wolf book sales in 2018 was over 3,400 hours, equivalent to 143 days, or 4 ¾ months worth of book sale!
Big Bad Wolf took a total of 31 million books around to its venues and attracted over 3 million visitors.
On total over 500 containers of books shipped worldwide, filling floor space of 945,000 sqft, equivalent to over 8 soccer pitches.
But there’s a lot more to it than just taking containers of books and stacking them high. These events take tremendous organisation, not just at the point of delivery but many months in advance finding local partners and getting the necessary approvals to mount these massive sales.
But where did it all begin? Where do these books come from? And what on earth possessed someone to mount massive sales of English-language printed book sales in countries that don’t speak English at a time when publishing is going digital?
With delicious irony we can find some of the answers in an interview Ng and Yap gave to Malaysia Tatler, explaining that the couple originally ran a magazine store, Reissued, but even as magazines began to go digital they turned their attention to books.
In 2007 Ng and Yap, wanting to sell books as cheaply as possible to as many people as possible, opened BookXcess, selling remaindered books from the US and UK.
There’s another story tucked away here – the rise and rise of remaindered book sales that have all but done away with the costly tradition of ripping covers off books and pulping them, but that’s for another time.
The BookXcess store evolved in 2009 to mount the first Big Bad Wolf sale, at the time hugely ambitious – 120,000 books and a five day event. They’ve come a long way since then.
Said Yap in the Malaysia Tatler interview,
In 2019, we will target 30 different countries including Uganda. By 2025, our goal is to reach a hundred different countries per year.
Well, hold that thought on Uganda for now, as I’ve been shown the 2019 plans and Uganda isn’t on that list, but that’s how things go. Plans are just that, plans, and subject to change.
Sadly I’m not allowed to share all the details about ‘the 2019 programme’, but I will say it’s breathtakingly ambitious, with a projection of 60 million books being shipped to 35 cities across 14 countries.
Fourteen countries? That’s twice the 2018 count.
Seven will be the same as 2018, some with additional venues, but there are also seven new countries, and while the list may change as we go through the year, we do know one new one for certain, as that is already being being prepped for launch next month.
That’s Big Bad Wolf Yandon, the former capital of Myanmar, where Ng and Yap will be taking 1 million books and are expecting 500,000 visitors.
One million books to Myanmar? You couldn’t make it up.
There’s so much more to tell about this amazing adventure, but let me end on this quote from Ng, if you’re still unconvinced why this is the Story of the Year 2018.
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.