Blog Archive

Thursday 1 March 2012

The Penang Bookshelf March 2012 Newsletter

The Penang Bookshelf
March 2012 Newsletter
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
The Penang Bookshelf
Customer Changing
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. 

Independent Online Booksellers Association, Professional Member.

Also at: ,Ebay and at IOBAbooks

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


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 by |  
The Penang Bookshelf | 36 Cheeseman Road | Penang | 11600 | Malaysia