Culture Lifestyle

[UPDATED] M’sians rank 6th most in the world for buying books. So why are more bookshops closing?

If you’re a book nerd like some people here at CILISOS, one of the places that you may be looking forward to visit after the conditional movement control order (CMCO) ends is…

Ah, to be walking down this aisle. Img from Zafigo

But what if we tell you that some of your favourite bookstore outlets might be closing down soon? Dun dun DUNNNNNN!

Just recently, we came across a Facebook post by Zatika Izati Puade,who claims that nine MPH outlets might be closing down soon. The outlets mentioned in her post are…

  • MPH Amanjaya
  • MPH Sunway GEO
  • MPH SACC Mall
  • MPH MyTown
  • MPH JB City Square
  • MPH Kinta City
  • MPH MYDIN MITC
  • MPH Taman Universiti
  • MPH Subang Parade

According to the post, Zatika visited an outlet in MyTown where she witnessed empty shelves and books being sold at a discounted price (we’re talking about books being sold at 30% to 70% discounts). Shocked by the news, we decided to get in touch with this writer’s acquaintance, Kak N (not real name), who works at the MyTown outlet. She confirms that the outlet is closing down and, according to reports, the outlet would be closed down on 6th June 2020

“We have to find other jobs after this.” – Kak N to CILISOS.

Okay la, this news may not be too surprising to some considering how one of MPH’s biggest and most iconic outlets at 1Utama shopping centre was closed down sometime in 2018. But we gotta admit that it’s pretty shocking to learn that SO MANY of these outlets are closing down just when businesses like malls are allowed to operate again. So it kinda makes us wonder why this is happening now?

And as it turns out…

 

This might just be the start of more Malaysian bookstores closing

Besides Kak N, we also spoke to another employee, Annie (also not her real name), who works at another outlet in Cyberjaya. Although the outlet she’s working at is still operating, we were informed that what happens to the outlet in the future is pretty uncertain.

“If there’s sale, then we can operate la.” – Annie to CILISOS.

We noticed that Kak N also said the same thing, adding that there might be other factors causing the closure of these outlets tho she didn’t quite specify what those other reasons are. And they might not be simply saying things.

At the time of writing, we figured that other news outlets would be quick to pick this story up #cilisosveryslow #ihatecilisos. And we noticed that, besides Annie and Kak N, reports by Malay Mail mentioned something similar as well.

“The employee said sales have been steadily declining, and while window shoppers continue to visit and browse for materials, this has been exacerbated by the movement control order (MCO) due to the pandemic.” – An excerpt from Malay Mail.

Remember those times where you can just browse thru books in bookstores like this? Img from Common Wikimedia

So how far is this true? 

While it may be a given fact that businesses including local bookstores besides MPH are struggling to stay alive during the MCO, we couldn’t exactly say the same for MPH. In fact, at the time of writing, MPH has yet to respond to our inquiries on this

But with our limited research capabilities, we found something else. Just in case you didn’t know, the 114-year-old company is wholly owned by business tycoon Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Albukhary. If his name rings a bell, that’s because he either owns or has firms linked to him that owns huge media companies like Media Prima and even Utusan Malaysia. We’ve written about him (uhh… more like about his debts) before and you can read it here.

The man himself. Img from Today Online

Syed Mokhtar is known as the media mogul as he owns quite a number of media and media-related companies including MPH Bookstores. But the thing is, some of these companies are reportedly making loss back in 2018. And, unfortunately, this includes MPH Bookstores. 

“…while MPH Bookstores’ net loss stood at RM5.17 million in its financial year ended March 31, 2018.” – An excerpt from The Edge Markets.

And are Malaysians actually contributing to this loss tho? Well, not really cos…

 

Weirdly enough, Malaysians are said to be among the world’s top spender on… BOOKS!

If you feel like you have a habit of buying more and MORE books or that your to be read pile is getting taller than the KLCC, then you’re not alone!

Yeap, we’re looking at you (and your tbr pile). Gif from Gifer

That’s because, according to a report by Picodi, an aggregator website that helps you find good deals online, Malaysians (76% of us to be exact) are among the world’s top spenders on books. In fact, we beat our kiasu neighbour by being the sixth on the list (Singapore didn’t even make it to the top 10)!

In addition, the report also stated that 53% of Malaysians would buy books from bookstores than to borrow from libraries or friends.

Screenshot from Picodi

So, if Malaysians are huge spenders on books, then why are bookstores closing down? 

Well, the Picodi report also pointed out that although Malaysians generally prefer buying physical paperback books, 54% of them would rather buy books from online stores than from brick and mortar stores la. 

While this may make sense, this hasn’t been the case for MPH for the past years. In 2000, when MPH first launched its website (now known as MPH Online), its chief operating officer, Donald Kee mentioned that this does not mean that its brick and mortar store isn’t as important. In fact, back in 2012, he mentioned that 85% of the book business was derived from retail. However, there have been no reports stating that this statement is relevant till now.

“The business model then was we did not want to cannibalise the physical retail outlets. Unlike before when we just filled shelves with books, starting this month, MPH will be moving aggressively in three directions: the physical retail business, online business and e-books business.” – Donald to The Star.

Donald also added that MPH sees technology as something that they can leverage on besides claiming that online business can reduce overhead costs. Just in case you didn’t know, books sold on MPH online are stored in a warehouse in Petaling Jaya. Donald reportedly said that the cost of renting the warehouse is a tenth of renting a physical store, so imagine how much the company can save up on the overheads.

Some of you may be familiar with MPH’s Warehouse Sale which is organised at its warehouse. Img from MPH Clicks Facebook

See, operating a retail bookstore can cost quite a lot – from rental to maintenance and employee’s salaries. And this is often cited as the reason behind the closure of retail bookstores, not only in Malaysia but also in Singapore. 

As we mentioned in the intro, this may not be the first time a bookstore has been closed down. Prior to this, MPH closed its outlet at the 1Utama shopping centre back in 2018. And besides MPH, we’ve witnessed other bookstores like Borders and Times closed down their outlets in Penang and Citta Mall, Damansara respectively. 

In fact, while researching this story, we found out that two MPH outlets in Singapore have been closed down in 2019. Most of these bookstores were closed due to high rental or cost to operate a bookstore as the reason behind the closure of these stores.

And over the years, MPH has been trying to reduce overheads by coming up with various out of the box ideas – besides MPH Online – to restructure its business model to sustain in the future. Some ideas the company came up with are like scaling down the MidValley outlet, launching an e-book channel and even placing… BOOK VENDING MACHINES around KL(?)!

This is apparently called Project V where 10 vending machines would be placed in strategic locations like hospitals, universities and banks. These vending machines pretty much work like your regular food vending machines… except they dispense books instead of food.

No, we’re not kidding gais. Img from Kenshou

While this seems like an interesting idea, there’s been no report stating that this project was actually executed.

And although many bookstore outlets might be closing down soon…

 

NAH, BACA:
Chinese tourist numbers in Malaysia dropped and it affected... durian sellers?!

This may not be the end for retail bookstores in Malaysia

To most of us who pretty much grew up going to MPH bookstores, the news of these stores might be closing down is pretty heartbreaking. You can just check out the comment section of Zatika’s post if you don’t believe us.

But, at the end of the day, this may not be the end for retail bookstores in Malaysia. While people are talking about the closure of these retail stores, there have also been reports stating that a Taiwanese bookstore chain called Eslite would be opening its first Southeast Asia store in KL.

Img from Eslite via The Star

Other bookstores such as Kinokuniya, on the other hand has been doing quite okay and one probable reason is that it caters to a very niche market. Besides that, we also have smaller, local bookstores like Lit Books, Tintabudi and Buku Fixi, among others that are pretty much struggling yet surviving in times like this.

If you feel like you can help these bookstores, you may head…

Gif from hawwaetc.com

…once the CMCO ends.

As for MPH stores, the company has yet to come up with an official statement on what it plans to do in the future to remain sustainable. We’ll keep y’all updated once we get a reply from MPH. So as of now, only time will tell what may happen to the remaining 18 outlets.

 

[UPDATE: 04/06/2020, 4.45pm] So MPH has gotten back to us with an official response a few hours after this article was published. And as it turns out, the closure of these outlets are part of its digital transformation initiatives (huh… sounds familiar tho both might not really be related)!

Anyways, in its official statement, MPH stated that it has been doing this since 2019 by consolidating ALL non-performing retails to channel resources to scale up its digital retail business (read: MPH Online). This explains why we’re seeing several MPH outlets being closed down la.

“We want to be able to connect with our customers through multiple touch points, be it online or offline by adopting an omni-channel approach.” – Donald, in MPH’s official statement.

And this approach does not only include MPH’s remaining stores and MPH Online but also the aforementioned vending machines as well. Earlier we mentioned that we weren’t able to find any news reports on what happened to MPH’s plans for those vending machines and that’s because we’ll only be seeing those machines at the end of the year. [END OF UPDATE]

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