Of course, the hastitly concocted title is a cover-up for the fact that I protected you from receiving a newsletter last month. It was busy both thanks to increasing sales - the best month yet - and my own fumblings to provide you with a better service, a wider variety of books and a whole lot more of which I'll write later.
I do have a couple of other excuses for not writing in October. Like many other members of my family, I've always lived by the adage, "When something can't be done at the last minute, it isn't worth doing at all," which is all very fine until something else squeezes into that last minute. So when APD Singapore called me on the morning of 31st October to say they wanted to see me, they provided me with the perfect excuse to procrastinate - just a little bit longer. l hosted them at the shop and think they were a bit mesmerised by the sight of this large old European of sorts ensconsed amongst piles of new and old books. They were slotting me in between more normal customers such as the big chain bookstores, Borders, Popular and MPH. (No, you're not getting any links to their sites!)
I could possibly have finished the newsletter immeditaley after that but then a publisher,
Editions Didier Millet - Hmm, I wonder how those words slip off an Asian tongue - butted in touting this book, Traditional Chinese Toggles (even I would stutter on that title.) As I have
a handful of customers on the look out for all that's fine and delectable in the Chinese art world, I bundled out another special newsletter. If you're upset that you weren't included and could be interested in the book, do have a look at The Penang Bookshelf Blog (link above) where I've deposited a copy of the newsletter. There's an excruciatingly amazing offer too!
Reading Doesn't Have to be Cosy
Those customers to whom I sent the special bulletin have specilialised interests, which are essential for any book selling business, but I do hope they find time to read more widely. I was a bit depressed this month when one customer said to me, "Oh a Vampire (for which insert any age, class, economic group, gender, race or religion that takes your fancy) would never read that." Another customer asking for recommendations on a particular subject was surprised when I offered him fiction as well. Last month I highlighted the work of the novelist Chuah Guat Eng. What I like about her work is at least its trying to shake off labels.
I suppose my parents were keen to give me an early introduction to living adventurously as this pic of me aged one and a bit in Dublin demonstrates. I hope that willingness to step into areas where others might be a little more cautious to tread serves you well too. I started this business to provide you with a broad range of reading matter - maybe not all of it literature - about Malaysia. I hope you can maybe first take a sip and then a huge gulp of the variety on offer. October was another good month for putting up new stuff onto the web. So why not take a look and maybe even surprise
yourself by trying something that you may have done your best to avoid previously?
My favourite customer of the week, after spending a good few minutes in the shop looking at various worthy historical and sociological works, ended up buying just one book, Barbara Cartland's Paradise in Penang. "She never came to Penang, did she?" he asked. No, of course she didn't, but she or her minions read widely enough to convince many readers that she did.
I've often heard people recommending books that changed their lives, but never films or TV shows. So if you feel like a change, why not wander somewhere new? All liabilty for mishaps, and even exciting developments, are disclaimed by The Penang Bookshelf.
How About a Bit of Manipulation?
In my last newsletter I mentioned that November always seems to be special for me - my birthday, my first anniversary as an internet bookseller and, this year, the thirtieth anniversary of an event that changed my life. Oh! I just remembered - a book I never would have dreamed of reading before played a significant part in that life changing event.
I had thought of celebrating this month by offering discounts left right and centre, but have dreamed up a darker alternative - loyalty points and prizes! As from the first of November, if you're already a subscriber to this newsletter, every purchase whether online or otherwise will earn you 10% of the book price. Of course, there's a catch - you can only apply these points - each one of them worth a whole ringgit, really! - against future book purchases. Needless to say, as a recovering lawyer, I've also hedged this 'incredible' offer with all sorts of conditions.The main ones are that the points won't apply to books I have already discounted or to books specially ordered for you, where I charge a small finder's fee. The points will only last for six months from when they've been earned. If you don't use them by then I'll snatch them back from you and distribute them as prizes to all and sundry.
Yes, what about the prizes? Well, every month I will dole out additional points to subscribers for all sorts of wild and inane reasons. This month there are at least One hundred points (RM100) to be earned by the subscriber(s) whom I judge has purchased adventurously, i.e. strayed from his or her regular reading matter in their purchases from The Penang Bookshelf. Offhand I can think of three of you who always purchase adventurously, but don't worry, I won't exclude you!
Let's see how it goes anyway.
Coming In From the Cold
Although the biggest benefit of this business is very definitely the varied range of people I meet and the friendships that develop, I often do feel that I'm ploughing a lonely furrow. It's kind of my customers to say The Penang Bookshelf is unique, but that does have its downside too. Although my family is my biggest support, I do have to remember with them that there can be topics of conversation other than books.
My first anniversary on the internet qualifies me to apply for membership of an international booksellers' association, so that's just what I have done. If I'm successful, the benefit for you will be that I'll have an external body monitoring the standards of service I provide you. As for me, it'll mean I'll have additional support from a group of fellows in the trade.
Old Books, New Books
I noticed that most of the members of the association which I hope to join appear to sell only old books, yet in this newsletter most of the books I write about are those in print. In reality most of the books I stock are out of print. I suppose there is a sort of logic in it. I more often have more than one copy of an in print book, but am lucky if I can say the same for an out of print one.
Nevertheless this is something I'll make an effort to redress in future newsletters. For now, I'll point out that about two thirds of the books I added in October are second-hand. I also was reasonably successful in a postal auction last month, so have a look at Books Ordered in October on my blog where you'll see them. There's even one fairly rare book in French about Melaka for the three or four native French speakers who read this newsletter.
More Paroxisms About Pricing
Back to this perennial topic. Much of last month was taken up with cataloguing the large collection of rare Malay language books in
the Jawi and Rumi scripts which fell into my lap in the last month or so. (To customers who've reserved books in the pictures - I have received six out of seven boxes of books, so your book(s) may be delayed until the seventh box appears.) I have had tremendous asistance from three customers including this one pictured with me during a five hour stint in a KL coffee shop when we zapped through 300 or so Jawi books!
However one area where I have been given minimal assistance - you are such a coy lot! - was on how to price them. I mean how do you price a book when you have no comparisions from your own past trading history or anyone else's? In 99.9% of the cases The Penang Bookshelf will be the only seller on the internet offering a copy of the book. I'm trying to find a price that is fair to both me and my customer
In the absence of advice to the contrary, I've decided to be brutal and adopt my usual policy when I come upon books which have no comparisons. In most cases I will charge a minimum of RM150 (�30) (US$50) and take the consequences. However, I'm still open to sane reasoned advice, if there's anyone out there willing to offer it.
The Penang Bookshelf Goes Viral, Sorry, Global.
A growing side of the Penang Bookshelf's business comes from special orders, i.e. where customers don't see the book in stock, but want me to find it. In my yet to be published interview with the Star newspaper, I was asked why customers ask me to get the book when they can, theoretically, get it for themselves. I guess it's mainly because I take the bother out of it all. Also, as a bookseller, I can often get trade discounts, which I pass on to you, or can reduce postal costs because I buy additional books from the seller for my stock.
It's also because I have agents, possibly even willing ones, outside Malaysia. My family in the UK, don't have a choice, poor things, but this month I even managed to dragoon an ex-colleague and friend - thanks again, Rita! - in the US to help. A UK customer was missing one volume from a three or four volume set. I found the only copy of that one volume on the internet, but the seller wasn't willing to post outside the US. So, thanks to Rita, I hope the book has now arrived in the UK.
I Am Who I Am
One of my continuing fascinations has always been language and how we use it. I suppose that's one of the reasons why the Language & Linguistics section of the Bookshelf keeps growing. (I do have my own prejudices too, you see.)
So I'm also conscious of the fact that, although most of the readers of this newsletter are not native English speakers, I write in a style with which native English speakers would probably find more comfortable. Of course, I have agonised over this. However feedback I've recieved from all sorts of native language speakers has revealed that even if you don't like my books, my newsletter works. It'd probably because you get a reasonably uncensored picture of the person behind the business, which has only blossomed in the way it has because of plain old personal contact. However, if you do have problems with anything I write, please do let me know.
The Penang Bookshelf with Knobs On
Thanks very much to all who responded to my plea for help in finding someone who could, I hope, produce a more effective main website and also a more meaningful logo design. As a result, I have found two lots of people I'm happy with. I'm told that the website will be more exciting, even 'interactive,' if the mood takes you. My design guy tells me that my identity 'needs adressing,' but I suppose most of you knew that anyway.
I guess there may be some teething problems as the web design team unscrews some old knobs and replaces them with new and extra ones. If you experience any difficulties as a result, you're always welcome to email me or phone me on 012-972-6485. At least these two means of communication won't be affected - for now.
Longer, Shorter, More, Less Newsletters?
Today, November 3rd, is actually the day The Penang Bookshelf started poluting the internet, so I'd better wind up before another day passes and get back to what this business is really about - finding and buying books and then offloading them onto you.
I enjoy writing these newsletters, but I am sure they do ramble on. I wondered whether it would help if they were shorter and more frequent or less frequent. No, I don't dare propose that they are longer although there's masses of earth shaking developments that I have missed out.
For example, I haven't yet told you about my first real link up with one of Malaysia's major publishers and distributors Gerakbudaya/SIRD or, less importantly the beginnings of my venture into non-Asian titles, Amok Amongst Books. This was actually the name I was most attached to when I started this business, but most people I tested the name out on in Malaysia, looked at me as if I'd just stepped off a Martian spaceship. So I'm now, in a very minor way, giving it a test run. One last thing - I've added a Shop on Facebook. Phew! Done.
I think this means, if the heavens are unkind, you may get another newsletter this month.
Enjoy yourself till then, unless you've made other plans
The Penang Bookshelf