Director of online store aims to provide one-stop platform for Singapore books

Director of online store aims to provide one-stop platform for Singapore books
(From left) Head of operations Callie Chong, director Edmund Wee and head of marketing Julie Hyun are the team behind localbooks.sg
PHOTO: The New Paper

To support his dream of having a home just for local books, Mr Edmund Wee had to put his own books up for sale.

Last November, he put up over 10,000 books he had accumulated since his college days.

The dream? To keep his online store localbooks.sg going.

Mr Wee, the publisher of local imprint Epigram Books, launched the store last July.

It carries 1,500 local titles, including graphic novels, award-winning fiction and poetry, children's series, lifestyle books and works in other languages.

It has a further 8,000 titles on backlist.

Mr Wee, 64, told The New Paper: "Over the years, I always asked myself, 'How do we make local books more popular?' I thought of making a bookstore just selling Singapore books, but the rentals for bookstores are just too expensive.

"We started with $100,000 as start-up capital. I found that it was not enough, so I went to sell all my books."

This included personal favourites such as the Letterpress Shakespeare set and a special edition of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Most of the books went for $2 to $5 and some shoppers bought boxes of these. Special editions that cost up to $100 were sold for $10.

Mr Wee raised $30,000, which will be saved for the running of the online store.

Since its launch, the store has seen a steady 20 per cent increase in sales each month.

The team is hoping to list as many Singapore books as possible.

It is also looking to include a list of out-of-print titles for customers to indicate their purchase interest, to help publishers decide whether these titles should be reprinted.

Miss Julie Hyun, 30, co-founder, said: "Local publishers are working very hard to get these stories out there and really need a platform for people to discover them.

"It is important to have this platform for people to know about Singapore titles and if they want to read, they can surely find it."

It took about five months for the team to gather titles and reach out to other publishers, such as Ethos Books and Pepper Dog Press, which have put up their titles for sale at localbooks.sg.

Ms Sim Ee Waun, co-founder of Pepper Dog Press, said: "We were thrilled to hear about the online shop as we were also newbies to the book business.

That they were focusing on local literature exclusively was a positive and encouraging indication to us that there is growing interest and support for local literature, and a reflection that there is a growing interest in all things local.

"It is also an indication that our society is maturing, and we are finding more confidence in ourselves and our identity rather than constantly looking abroad for good things to happen."

Ethos Books, which has published works by writers Claire Tham, Alfian Sa'at and Cyril Wong among others, was approached by the team behind the website in March.

Associate publisher Ng Kah Gay said: "We were fascinated that they were brave enough to venture into the business of selling Singapore books and literature.

"It makes sense for us as publishers to support an initiative that encourages readership and improves awareness of and access to Singapore literature."

Mr Wee hopes the venture will be a success, though he knows it is a gamble.

He said: "I am aware that it is financially risky to start a bookshop but it still has to be done, how else will people find Singapore books?"


This article was first published on January 17, 2017.
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