Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Penang Bookshelf March 2012 Newsletter



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The Penang Bookshelf
March 2012 Newsletter
 
Bookshelves
From The Penang Bookshelf
Dear Friend

Lowering The Tone 

Last month was The Penang Bookshelf's best month to date, both in terms of income and the number of books that you've bought. Thanks! As a treat, I decided to relax a bit at the Little Penang Street Market  last Sunday. Instead of the unaffordable and indigestible, marketeers were treated to the results of The Penang Bookshelf's first house clearance. They rummaged amongst boxes and boxes of a wide range of the past reading in various stages of crumbliness. Even though  another nearby stall sold their equivalent trash at RM5 a copy, The Penang Bookshelf's selection seemed to have more of a crowd and more takers at twice the price. There were still lots left over. They'll probably take another trip to market when not sitting at the Batu Ferringhi hangout which this week recieved its first few boxes of books. The Penang Bookshelf's Malaysian stock will be at the Lebuh Acheh shop with the exception of more valuable items and older Malay books.

I've been told I haven't done enough to publicise the new shop premises of The Penang Bookshelf. So I will repeat - it's at the Areca Book offices at 70 Lebuh Acheh, George Town, Penang. Opening hours are at the end of the email and here's a link to where it is on the map.

What Thrills Me

Treks to the the Pulau Tikus Post Office this month have become an almost daily affair. Penang traffic crawls have, however, given me a chance to reflect on what I really enjoy about this pseudo hobby I've chosen. Without doubt top of the list, selfishly, comes discovery. Like many customers I keep on discovering new (or new to me) books in all sorts of places. The search thrills whether it's plunging into heaps of mouldering books, nosing about publishers' store rooms or approaching authors to see if they still have a few hidden piles of their books that many have forgotten, but others still yearn for. When interviewed by The Star newspaper I didn't have a  very good answer to the pertinent question, 'why do customers need to come to you rather than find books elsewhere on the web?' With the benefit of hindsight I would now say that one of the many reasons is thatThe Penang Bookshelf  saves them the effort of finding books like this little gem from this month's rambles, The Decorated Boats of Kelantan.

Just About As Thrilling

It happens so often, that I can almost become blasé about it - introducing you to books that you didn't know existed or that you thought had disappeared off the face of the earth.Malay LetterThis happens most frequently  when customers  lay their hands on The Legacy of the Malay Letter/ Warisan Warkah Melayu, one of my scrummy books, about which I've bored you before. This monthThe Penang Bookshelf had a really enthusiastic response from a kind customer who found another book I'd almost forgotten about and then proceeded to tell at least The Facebook World all about it. Thanks!

The Bookish, The Bad and The Ugly

There aren't many minuses in this business, yet. Nasty customers are fortunately difficult to find. Malaysia based customers, when they communicate, are courteous and friendly. Overseas there's, so far, been only one exception. However he does live in the Eurozone and in a bailed out country, so maybe there's not that much to be cheery about.

An Old Curmudgeon

That's what I've been called this week as I grumbled about the sweat of keeping up with increased orders. So, yes, I can be grumpy too, but I do my feeble best to disguise it. My top priority is ensuring what's ordered and paid for arrives on your doorstep as quickly as possible.  However I always welcome the distraction of the arrival of a new parcel especially when it contains interesting (to me at least) titles like this one, Intimating the Sacred: Religion in English Language Malaysian Fiction. The next priority, until I re-arrange them again, is putting books up on the websites for without this The Penang Bookshelf would be pointless.Then comes re-stocking, keeping publishers and distributors paid and then chatty emails. I'm Fag Ladyhoping March will be a quiet month, when my main priority while in the country will be to sort out the Jawi books   and 1960s Rumi Books that I bought at the end of last year. Thanks for your patience to those of you who've expressed an interest in some of them. The books that have reached the websites have been selling and I hope and pray more of them will become available to you soon.

Busman's Holiday?

My wife and I are planning to make a quick dash to the UK next month. My son's first reaction was. 'Is there a book auction, Daddy?' Not quite, but there is a bookseller in the West of England whom I've been trying to tackle for at least a year to get him to disgorge his Malaysian collection. Most of which have been recovered in leather. He's even more sleepy than I am in dealing with non-urgent correspondence, so I've retaliated by booking my ticket to go and pounce on him. In other words more books from him or from others will return with me.

I won't be in the shop from 7th to 21st March With help from friends I will try and keep my websites open while away. I'll always be contactable by email.

It's amazing how this book obsession can wear away prejudices or at least put them on hold for a while. My other overseas book trip planned for this year is a week in the United States for a course in how to be a better bookseller. It's meant to be the best course there is  globally for nutters like me, so let's see. I can't say I had happy experiences on my two previous visits to that country, but I'm struggling to keep an open mind.


Enjoy yourself till we're in touch again, unless you've made other plans   

William Knox
The Penang Bookshelf




Is The Profile
of
The Penang Bookshelf
Customer Changing
or
Is This A Rogue Month? 

The canny amongst you will spot that this is an attempt to restore my reputation as a 'serious' bookseller after the the Penang Bookshelf's 2011 bestseller results published in the last newsletter seemed to imply that the business manages to keep going by pedalling tourist tat. The month has been quite exceptional for turnover - an average of three books a day on the internet which still accounts for over 90% of sales. So I thought it might be worth analysing these sales  for my benefit, if not yours.

February's Top Selling Categories


Of course it's a vast a vast category, but I'm not sure that it's had as strong a showing as this for some time. I think it's partly because a few web savvy academics are beginning to use the site. It's also a sign that interest in history isn't dead despite the lack of, or maybe be because of, the absence of a significant group core of  internationally recognised historians in the country. The front runner in this category this month is Carl Trocki's Prince of Pirates of which I've only sold a couple of copies before, but three this month alone! As usual this title is published by the incomprable National University of Singapore Press,  but I have, at long last, firmed up my relations with The University of Malaya Press this month. I am starting to stock their titles including The Golden Khersonese in a faithful modern reprint. It's somewhat cheaper than the rather scare original edition of which I've sold a few copies.   


This category also saw a resurgence mainly because of a sudden spurt in the sales of Hail Penang, which was, I think, the first book sold by The  Penang Bookshelf on the internet in November 2010. The publishers.
Areca Books, claim that The Penang Bookshelf is one of the main sellers of this title despite it never having been plugged in the newsletter before. This month also saw the departure of the original edition which had been hanging around for a year or more. It's really quite a unique perspective on Penang during colonial times. Of course, past readers of this newsletter will realise that this category was also boosted by Malayan Spymaster which is still selling well.   The power of the internet never ceases to baffle me. Out of the blue I had an email a week ago, to which I must reply, from the 'Spymaster's' son in France with some interesting background on the book's publication. I was thinking of some sort of interview with the fellow for a future issue. Let's see.              


Now here was a nice surprise! I've always been a bit  puzzled as to how unpopular these books are given that about half of the Penang Bookshelf's customers live in a country that has more to boast about with regard to nature's gifts than most. I suppose it
's partly my fault as most of what The Penang Bookshelf has to offer is buried deep in My Full Catalogue. One of those items, a beautiful set of bird books, which I've had for a year or more unwittingly (sic) got a plug from the Christmas Day Star article and sadly disappeared from its nest this month. Another new publisher worming its way into  the Penang Bookshelf inventory this month is Natural History Publications (Borneo). So far, as you'll see from New Arrivals in February most of the books I've put up so don't fall into this category, but more are on their way.


OK this category may be a big turn off to some of you, but not to me. So I was pleased to see this category perform well. If I hadn't been sidetracked into bookselling, I would probably have ended up as a ham linguist or done something to pursue my interests in this field. I'm not so great at learning languages, but am fascinated as to how and why they work as they do.


Fiction got a big plug last month, but was trailing behind the top categories this month. One possibly interesting newish bit of fiction crept into The Penang Bookshlef's catalogue during the month, The Devil's Garden by Nigel Barley. It's a very different piece of World War II fiction set in Singapore during the Japanese occupation. The book was recommended by Tan Twan Eng who must have his hands full with the recent launch of The Garden of Evening Mists. Reviews are beginning to appear. The one I liked best was this one mainly because it was written by someone who hadn't read The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng's first novel. As a result the review was free of TTE hype, which can infect existing members of the author's growing fan club.

Points and Prizes 

The newsletter subscriber who wins the the last newsletter's prize for most fiction titles doesn't even read the newsletter, but her husband certainly does. I couldn't get her to admit how many books she reads in a month, but she bought seven fiction titles this month alone!

I haven't decided on the prize for March, so it'll have to be a stealthy one, i.e. one for which you don't even know you're competing.  

The Penang Bookshelf's Finances 

Today marks the beginning of a new financial year for The Penang Bookshelf which is both frightening and daunting. The year ended with an average monthly profit for the year of about RM1,500, a three fold increase from the middle of the year. The pace of sales seems to have started picking up in August, a good few months before the Christmas Day Star newspaper publicity. Return on capital employed fluctuated between 25% and 30% throughout the last six months. My target is to reach an average monthly income of RM2,000. If/when that's reached and if I'm in a generous mood, The Penang Bookshelf will look at other ways of using the surplus to boost reading amongst you and others.  

    

About The Penang Bookshelf
The Penang Bookshelf specialises in providing book lovers with a broad range of new and second-hand books, both fiction and non-fiction, primarily about Malaysia, but also about other parts of Asia as well. 

IOBALogo 
Independent Online Booksellers Association, Professional Member.


Websites:www.penangbookshelf.com

Also at:
Biblio.com ,Ebay and at IOBAbooks

For other general books, bargains & collectables, please visit Amok Amongst Books

Email: penangbookshelf@gmail.com

Telephone: +60-12-972-6485 
Shop: c/o Areca Books, 70 Lebuh Acheh (Acheen Street), George Town Penang. (Opening Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 11am - 3pm & Saturdays 10am - 1pm. Other times by appointment.) 
Business Address:  Aquarius, 4-8-8 Jalan Low Yat, Batu Ferringhi, 11100, Penang. (Opening hours by appointment only.) 
Mailing Address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia

Registered Business No: PG0282219-D
The Penang Bookshelf's Loyalty Points   
Whenever you make a purchase from The Penang Bookshelf, while being a subscriber to this news letter, 10% of the purchase price of the book excluding postage will be credited to you to use to discount the price of your next purchase.You will not earn points if the purchase price was discounted or the book was on special order where a service fee is charged. Points will also be awarded as special prizes announced in the newsletter. Points will expire six months after they have been earned.  Points will be recorded in Malaysian Ringgit and you may check your available points balance by contacting The Penang Bookshelf at any time.


This email was sent to ewvknox@gmail.com by penangbookshelf@gmail.com |  
The Penang Bookshelf | 36 Cheeseman Road | Penang | 11600 | Malaysia

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Penang Bookshelf New Year 2012 Newsletter

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The Penang Bookshelf
New Year 2012 Newsletter
 
Bookshelves
From The Penang Bookshelf
Dear Friend

Please, Lord Murugan 

This newsletter's been in draft form for a month or more as I and many other Penang residents have been battered by a succession of cultural and religious events, Christmas, 'English' New Year, Chinese New Year, The Prophet Mohammed's Birthday and then, yesterday, the finale - Thaipusam in honour of Lord Murugan. He's got so much oomph that I noticed a smattering of worshippers who weren't from Malaysia's Tamil community at the festivities. He and his pals were an inspiration for me more than ten years ago in the midst of Sri Lanka's civil war, when I had pretensions of being a poet, so maybe he'll get me to buck up and finish this off before May Day, which I see is the next major holiday on Malaysia's crowded public holiday calendar.

Where to Start?

There have been two major upheavals in the business since I last wrote. Firstly I decided to pull the shutters down on trying to maintain a shop in the backstreets of Penang. Within six months of arriving in the internet, prostituting myself for the sake of sales and then flinging books to all parts of this country and many others has dominated The Penang Bookshelf's business. Meeting real customers on my market stall or in the shop can be an antidote to loneliness, but it really doesn't pay - for me, at any rate.

Before I reteated into my garret with a sea view I was yanked out again by the team at Areca Books, Penang's top publisher, I guess. They stroked my ego sufficiently to persuade me that The Penang Bookshelf shopfront would be missed, so please would I scrap my plans to exclude myself from real book browsers and come and cuddle up with them? When I've caused sufficient destruction to create more book space, the flat - 'apartment' in Penang lingo - will be the nerve centre of The Penang Bookshelf, while, for the time being, 70, Lebuh Acheh (Acheen Street) will be its public face. I can't say I have high hopes for the shop. Penangites aren't fantastic readers, I have been warned many times. "Ah, what a waste!" was the reaction of one Penangite on hearing that I was cramming an 'apartment' full of books. The shop will be where there will be most of the Malaysian catalogue and a few books on the rest of Asia, while the flat will house the rest. A phone call  is always advisable before you visit either. Opening hours are below.

The other main event was a Christmas present from Malaysia's top selling English daily, The Star, when they decided not to publish one, but two articles about The Penang Bookshelf on the same day! Of course the response swamped me, especially an order from one new customer who bought this heap of books. The bit I liked best about the publicity splash was the title of one of the articles, "The Accidental Bookseller," coined by the journalist herself. This so accurately describes how I feel about my dabblings that I was sorely tempted to rename the business.

Nose for Books


One of the reasons why this customer bought so many book was because he went beyond the pretty pictures on the website and bothered to have a look at The Penang Bookshelf Catalogue which also shows books that are still too shy to appear in front of the camera.
Of course he also knew what he was looking for. One of the books, Paul Wheatley's The Golden Khersonese is a 'rare' book that I have sold several times. I first sold it in April 2011 for RM400 and have sold it for three times that price recently. Of course, every time I obtain the book, it costs me more - so you pay more :) - but it would still be difficult to find copies of the book cheaper than at the Penang Bookshelf.

This book was only written in the 1960s, but there are even other more recently published books that are not only wonderful to own and read but have high chances of being an investment. I have mentioned China in Those Days in the past as a possibility. This month another book that's just arrived, History of the Dutch in Malaysia, has possibilities too. Although this is the third edition. I think it's the first time it's been in hardback and the edition is 'limited.' which, I guess, may mean that there may not be reprinted again. For the lazy scum who want their pictures, I have been adding quite a few more books to the site both last month and this month. I now seldom describe books as 'rare.' 'scarce' and certainly not as 'a terrific investment.' However if you want advice, without obligation, liability and any other exclusion this jaded ex-lawyer can think of, do contact me.

Any More Readers Out There?

Since joining The IOBA most of my emails seem to come from their various mailing lists and there have been quite a few gems which already make membership worthwhile. One of them that recently caught my attention was
 World Book Night that takes place on Shakepeare's birthday. Basically volunteers are recruited to give away free copies of popular books, mainly fiction, to members of the public who don't, or rarely, read books. As you'll see from the titles, it's not just a chance for publishers and booksellers to dump their remaindered stock. I wondered if authors, booksellers and publishers, both here and in Singapore, would be interested in trying something like this sometime. When I have the time I might write directly to them, but, if any of you who are reading this want to take it further, do let me know.

In Penang I've been having a chat recently with Michelle Grimsley of Spiral Synergy, Penang's main events organiser, about combining to stage some book related events. While we expect to have meetings with visiting authors in future, we thought we would start by getting a book reading and discussion group going. They're not new in Penang, but here they seldom catch readers who are out of the home for most of the working week. We wouldn't like to exclude anyone, but would particularly like to attract those looking for an alternative to cafes and shopping malls as a way to unwind. If you're even remotely interested, do contact me.    

Final Jumble
Some of you will have noticed that the once regular Customer's wish list, i.e. books people are searching for, but can't find, has been missing from the newsletter. It was taking up too much space, so I've now added it as a new page to The Penang Bookshelf Blog. In that way I'll be able to update it more frequently as new wants come up and others are met. If any of yours have been missed from the current list, do let me know.
It's possible that you may find some of your wants on this list compiled by David Tett, a very good friend of The Penang Bookshelf. Although David's based in the UK and has never lived in Malaysia he's a world renowned authority on the postal history of prisoners of war under the Japanese. Having produced six volumes, he's obviously decided to pack it in and sell off his extensive library on the period. You can contact David yourself about any books in which you may be interested. However if you want me to hold your hand  and act as an intermediary,  do let me know.
As I mentioned in the interview with Tan Twan Eng, he was not shy about suggesting other Malaysian literary contacts. Most of them are for me to follow up on, but there's one, Sharon Barkar, whom I'd strongly recommend you to follow up. Her apparent energy makes me wilt!
Speaking of which, my energy's sapped.

Enjoy yourself till we're in touch again, unless you've made other plans   

William Knox
The Penang Bookshelf



2011 Bestsellers
at
The Penang Bookshelf 

As part of my end of year stocktaking I thought it might be interesting to see what sold best this year. I must say I was surprised at how Penang and 'heritage' dominated the list. I suppose, being a Penang bookseller, I just take it for granted.

In The Top Spot   

A surprise? Well, no it's The Streets of George Town.  As an old Penang hand who's always ready with an opinion on my stock said at the market last month, "It is simply the best." If you want to get stuck into Penang and heritage, there isn't any better place to start. It just chugs on selling throughout the year.

Sniffing at its Heels 

surprised at this achievement. It complements Streets of George Town, by covering not only a wider area of the island, but also  filling you in with a bit of gossip as to what supposedly went on behind the doors that you pass by. I'm not sure that there's much stock remaining in town, but i still have a few.

A Well Deserved Third 

I make no apologies for the amount of times I plug The Penang Sketchbook  since among the Penang picture books, I don't think it has an equal. Maybe it's because it doesn't contain single photograph! Surprisingly some Penang bookstores don't stock it. At The Penang Bookshelf we always sell it at 10% less than the retail price.

Controversially Fourth 
The same fella at the market who praises No 1 always rubbishes The Penang Adventure as being full of inaccuracies. He's not alone. However I always plug the book because I don't know of any  better popular history of the island. It's cheap, readable and just keeps selling. If the moaners could produce something better, I'd listen to 'em. 

 Top Publisher 

Appropriately, as I'm going to be working more closely with them (see opposite column) The Penang Bookshelf sold more books published by Areca Books than any other publisher. Until I compiled this list, I hadn't realised how many Penang books, from Areca and other publishers, I sell. It looks as if they account for about 20% of The Penang Bookshelf's sales. Maybe I'm dumb, but I was surprised.

Honourable Mention

Considering he was a late arrival and controversial, The Malayan Spymaster, surprised me coming in at sixth position. I am sure that the review  
of the book on The Penang Bookshelf Blog did help. It's been one of the most read posts on the blog. So I hope that will encourage others to write reviews of books I have in stock. I will dispense at least 10% of the cost of the book as an incentive. More if I'm feeling generous.
  
Top Fiction 

The only Malaysian writer to fare well was Tan Twan Eng whose Gift of Rain is - yes, you 
 guessed it - another Penang book. However, this is a Penang book with a difference - a) it's fiction and b) literary big wigs outside Penang have noticed it. The book was long listed for the Booker Prize shortly after it was published. The book has also sold over 60,000 copies internationally. This book came in at 11th place rubbing shoulders with perennial favourites like Anthony Burgess' Malayan Trilogy and Paul Theroux's The Consul's File.   
  
Sorry, It's Tea Time Again

With apologies to this newsletter's regular readers, I must just mention this book, The 
Yixing Teapots Beauty of Chinese Yixing Teapots again. Not only does it have the distinction of being the book most shamelessly plugged in this newsletter, it also has another distinction. It's the only book where customers fairly frequently buy more than one copy of the book. Four copies once went to Thailand and two copies each have recently gone to Switzerland and Wales.  

But Don't Forget... 
 
I was really pleased to see that the second best selling Malaysian publisher for 2011 at the Penang Bookshelf was Matahari Books who, as you will see from their catalogue, haven't - yet - published a book on Penang or on anything else to do with 'heritage.' (I tried to persuade the Areca Books team to fine anyone when they used that word in the office, but I can't say that the suggestion was rapturously received.) This book, Orang Macam Kita, a collection of gay and lesbian writing, was their top seller at The Penang Bookshelf. I have most of their catalogue in stock and must make an effort to put more of it onto the website.
   
Points Make Prizes. Really? 

Past readers of the newsletter have a chance to groan again as I bring up my complicated way of giving discounts. (Confusing explanation at the end of this newsletter.) Since the last newsletter I've been giving discounts to rather bemused customers and also the prize for variety in book buying. The KL based winner of RM100 credit off his next purchase at the Penang Bookshelf bought mainly books about Malaysia's history and culture, then gave an indicator of his qualifications by buying some novels. However he then went right off the map and bought a biography of a British romantic novelist whose stories are based in India. Although the prize has been won, I'll probably award it again if I'm equally impressed by anyone's wide range of book choice in their purchases.

Books Make Prizes Too

One of the side benefits of rubbing shoulders with Areca Books will probably be that The Penang Bookshelf is exposed to more booklovers. Well, it seems to be working out that way. As you will see from The Penang Bookshelf Blog, Tan Twan Eng has been in town and we managed to meet up for a long rambling chat. As I live in my own little dream world I hadn't realised he was just about to launch The Garden of Evening Mists, his second novel. The new novel is in the process of being zapped out to Malaysia, but I did get him to sign a copy or two of The Gift of Rain. So how about it? A free copy of a signed copy of The Gift of Rain to the person who buys the most fiction books from The Penang Bookshelf in February. Also - just imagine it - free surface mail postage on the book to anywhere in the world! Can't say  fairer than that, can you?

Chinese & Tamil Malaysian Fiction

Tan Twan Eng mentioned there's a significant body of Chinese and Tamil fiction written by Malaysians. If you know of any you would recommend that should be stocked at The Penang Bookshelf, do scream.
    
About The Penang Bookshelf
The Penang Bookshelf specialises in providing book lovers with a broad range of new and second-hand books, both fiction and non-fiction, primarily about Malaysia, but also about other parts of Asia as well. 

IOBALogo 
Independent Online Booksellers Association, Professional Member.


Websites:www.penangbookshelf.com

Also at:
Biblio.com ,Ebay and at IOBAbooks

For other general books, bargains & collectables, please visit Amok Amongst Books

Email: penangbookshelf@gmail.com

Telephone: +60-12-972-6485 
Shop: c/o Areca Books, 70 Lebuh Acheh (Acheen Street), George Town Penang. (Opening Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 11am - 3pm & Saturdays 10am - 1pm. Other times by appointment.) 
Business Address:  Aquarius, 4-8-8 Jalan Low Yat, Batu Ferringhi, 11100, Penang. (Opening hours by appointment only.) 
Mailing Address: 36, Cheeseman Road, 11600 Penang, Malaysia

Registered Business No: PG0282219-D
The Penang Bookshelf's Loyalty Points   
Whenever you make a purchase from The Penang Bookshelf, while being a subscriber to this news letter, 10% of the purchase price of the book excluding postage will be credited to you to use to discount the price of your next purchase.You will not earn points if the purchase price was discounted or the book was on special order where a service fee is charged. Points will also be awarded as special prizes announced in the newsletter. Points will expire six months after they have been earned.  Points will be recorded in Malaysian Ringgit and you may check your available points balance by contacting The Penang Bookshelf at any time.
This email was sent to ewvknox@gmail.com by penangbookshelf@gmail.com |  
The Penang Bookshelf | 36 Cheeseman Road | Penang | 11600 | Malaysia