Kicking off the new year in a literary fashion, Phnom Penh will be hosting the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale for the first time on Jan 9-20 with over 1 million brand new books on sale at up to 90 percent off the recommended retail price.
Originating in Malaysia back in 2009, the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale has become a regular international event geared towards increasing an appetite for reading by offering affordable English language books.
In 2019 alone, Big Bad Wolf held book sales in 32 cities across 10 countries and attracted some 5 million visitors.
Bringing quality literature to various countries across Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Big Bad Wolf Books hopes to build not just on Cambodia’s literacy, but on a genuine passion for reading.
“It’s not just about selling cheap books,” explained co-founder and executive director, Jacqueline Ng.
“The best way to convert a non-reader is by putting the right books in their hand,” she said, adding that while the books on offer at Big Bad Wolf Book Sales are often not the most recent, they are available as a result of over-printing or under-selling at bookshops and that’s what makes them so accessible.
“Just 2 percent of Malaysians are reading,” claimed Ms Ng, who said the mission of Big Bad Wolf Books was originally to increase readership rates in Malaysia, but has since gone international due to the success of her events.
“We have a problem where books are viewed as middle class – something for the elite – but everyone has the right to learn, everyone has the right to read,” she said.
Ms Ng also discussed the main barriers to the success of her event in Phnom Penh. In Cambodia, all goods, including books, are subject to 10 percent VAT. “This means a higher cost outlay during importation before you even sell one book,” she said.
Phnom Penh’s small population of only 1.5 million people also presents a challenge. “Low population and low average income makes it a not very convincing market as Big Bad Wolf operates on economy of scale due to the low margins.”
Brimming with over a million books to choose from, Big Bad Wolf Phnom Penh 2020 will see Rung Reung Market adorned with works of fiction, non-fiction and educational books over 12 days. Ms Ng is confident that there will be something to suit everyone’s tastes and predilections.
The key demographic that Big Bad Wolf is targeting will be children. This, Ms Ng argues, is to encourage Cambodians to get into the habit of reading from an early age – a habit she believes can change lives and help children to imagine beyond poverty.
“We are a reading advocacy organisation first, a commercial entity second,” she said. “Education is the key to change and a second language offers more career opportunities and can help combat poverty and inequality.”