WHILE seeking new ways to entertain themselves during the various lockdowns over the past year, many people rediscovered the reading habit, with book sales reaching new heights last year.
This phenomenon has been a boon for the rapidly growing market of independent online booksellers. Many of them have made a home on Instagram, fuelled by bookstagrammers and book-lovers searching for the next right read.
One of these sellers is The Sleepy Cat Bookshop (@thesleepycatbookshop), which is run by 40-year-old Wan Noreen Wan Ahmad, a full-time housewife and mother-of-five who began selling books as a side business in late 2016.
In an email interview with theSun, Noreen explained: “Previously, I worked as a Biology lecturer, an editor at a publishing company and a sub-editor at a weekly magazine. After several years of juggling work and childcare, I finally decided to become a full-time housewife. While at home, I did freelance editing work and dabbled in a few translation projects before venturing into bookselling.”
A self-described bookworm, Noreen has loved reading ever since she was a child, and once she decided to venture into bookselling full-time, she soon discovered a community of loyal readers and book enthusiasts who have helped her grow her business into what it is today.
The Sleepy Cat Bookshop’s mascots are her two cats, Boba and Hakuna, who often delight her followers with their antics, which she shares on Instagram, along with her selection of books for sale.
Where do you usually source your books from?
“Initially, I sold my own collection of books which I no longer had space for. As my business grew, I had to keep topping up the books in my inventory, so I began buying used books from individuals, charity organisations and bookstores that offer clearance items.
“I would also be at book sales, taking advantage of the lower prices and huge inventory. Occasionally, I would receive book donations from private donors and friends who were decluttering their homes.
“Generally, the books that I offer are curated based on my personal preferences, bookstagram recommendations and the wishlists of my followers and customers. Another important criteria is of course the physical condition of the books. It takes a lot of time and effort to sift through used books to find the ones that are fit for sale.”
What challenges have you faced as an independent online bookseller?
“My business is basically a one-woman show and I do everything myself – from sourcing the books, taking photos, editing and uploading them on Instagram, to packing the books and sending them off. Staying up late and waking up early to get the tasks done are just part of the job. Honestly, I have less time to read now that I'm selling books!
“Nowadays, with so many locations placed under MCO or EMCO, sourcing for secondhand books also becomes quite a challenge in itself. The limited movement from one place to another means I can't go out as often as I need to replenish my stock and I can't inspect the condition of the books physically like I usually do. On top of that, I have to get the books shipped to my home by delivery service, which in turn adds to the cost per book.”
What trends have you noticed in the books that people look for?
“I noticed that there is a significant interest in light-hearted escapism among readers, which I think is driven by the desire to escape our grim reality, and deal with loneliness and grief. Local bookstagrammers seem to gravitate towards fantasy reads filled with magic and drama, contemporary rom-coms, edgy and smart thrillers as well as inspirational and spiritual non-fiction titles.”
Why do you feel it is important to maintain a reading habit?
“Maintaining a reading habit has never been more important than right now. It's a healthy coping mechanism for people who are affected by the pandemic and also for individuals facing mental health issues. The simple act of reading can help to relax your body, calm your nerves and quiet your mind from negative self-talk. I myself find it to be very helpful when dealing with negative emotions and daily stresses, and I wish to maintain this habit right into my old age.”
Do you think physical books still have a place in today’s world?
“Absolutely! With physical books, you get a multisensory experience compared to e-books. You can actually feel the crisp pages as you turn them, breathe in the wonderful smell of old paper and ink, and sense the weight of your reading progress as the number of pages you read adds up.
“Unlike e-books, there's also no glaring backlight that messes with your eyesight or links to distract you from your reading. E-books are designed with convenience, speed and mobility in mind, but physical books are made for deep reading, slow processing and patience.
“And there's no denying that you'll feel a genuine sense of ownership and emotional connection that comes from seeing beautifully shelved physical books.”
What plans do you have for the future of The Sleepy Cat Bookshop?
“In the current situation, it's hard to plan for what's coming next but I hope to keep running The Sleepy Cat Bookshop for many more years to come. Currently, I'm looking at the latest and most efficient methods to respond to my customers’ queries and facilitate the buying process.
“I'm not planning to open up a physical shop in the nearest future due to resource and time limitations, but that may also change. I hope as my business grows, I can keep giving to the local book community and make a difference to them.”