BOOKS n Bobs is a secondhand online bookstore that caters to local book lovers. It was established by Rachel Ang, a fan of historical fiction books, almost four years ago after leaving the corporate world.
“Shortly before I started selling books, I was not working for a couple of years. Before that, I attempted another online business selling costume jewellery for about a year. Then way before that, I was actually an insurance agent and an accountant.
“The online book business started somewhere in July 2016, so it’s been almost four years now. However, during the first year, the business was a part-time thing. However, a year later, the business grew, and it became full-fledged work for me. Now I work for 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Ang’s love for reading books, and doing what she likes best for a living motivated her to start the business.
“I am a reader myself and I’ve got a lot of books lying around. When I was not working, I needed something cheap so I would buy secondhand books online, through Facebook, friends, or family. So, it was when I was buying and selling my own books, that I noticed that there are a lot of people looking for cheaper alternatives. I needed a job and the money, so I thought to myself, why not this? Instead of trying something that I don’t like.”
Ang shares that her business actually flourished throughout the period of the movement control order (MCO) as she came up with a new business strategy.
“The last three days, I’ve been working like mad! I put up a post on Facebook, asking to buy secondhand books. There were tonnes of people who contacted me, hundreds of messages a day! I spent my weekend, from morning until night, answering inquiries from people, cutting deals, and arranging for delivery. I’ve got thousands of books that came in over the last few days. My back hurts!
“I know that people are always looking for ways to sell their books, and there are a lot of alternatives out there. But, most of the time, you have to go through the hassle of putting your books out there. I know how painful it can be, and you have to go to the post office too. Most people don’t want to go out.
“Hence, my offer was to make it as easy as possible for others. You’ll only have to take pictures of the books from certain angles, so if I am happy with what I see, I will take the whole load. I’ll give you a price and send a Grab to pick it up, so you don’t have to leave the house. During the MCO period, people may want to earn some cash by selling their books, so that helps.”
Meanwhile, Ang says that electronic books or e-books, might actually be less desirable compared to physical books despite the advancement in technology.
“People do still appreciate physical copies of books. In fact, when e-books first came out, everyone was fascinated by the new technology and people gave it a try. In my opinion, many true book lovers, don’t just enjoy the story, but enjoy holding the book in their hands, flipping the pages, and the smell of the book. That is something that cannot be replaced.
“I myself read e-books too on my e-reader, but that is just a back-up for me. Recently, I read that there are more and more people returning to physical books. I also noticed that the younger generation prefers physical copies over Kindle. I see parents buying more physical books for their children.”
At first, Ang struggled to make ends meet. She shares, “I started the business with almost no capital, so it wasn’t like I had a few thousand to invest. It is always very difficult at the beginning to build up a business from scratch. I started with a couple of hundred ringgit cash and I bought whatever books I could, and combined it with my own collection of old books.
“So whatever profit I made with that, I rolled it on a very slow pace. Even though the business is growing, it is painfully slow and it is not enough to pay the bills, which is very frustrating at times.
“A lot of times I was tempted to give up. Sometimes my family doesn’t really support what I am doing as I am not getting a sufficient return from the business. Luckily, I didn’t stop and kept going. The thing about doing something that I enjoy is that, money is not the only thing that matters. Of course, I do need the money to pay the bills.
“However, the job satisfaction is amazing. People appreciate the books I sold to them, and they tell me, ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for this book for some time and I finally found it! It is cheap too. Thank you!’ So that keeps me going and I am very happy with the work I do!”