Meeting the Big Bad Wolf himself. Malaysia’s Andrew Yap
The Malaysian bookseller snappily called Big Bad Wolf Books is roaring again. It has plans to take its revolutionary approach of cheap books for all into new parts of Africa – specifically Uganda in February/March, and Ethiopia in March/April – as well as into China, also in March/April. It also has hopes of building bookstores in the UAE, Middle East and Africa, to help boost literacy and give books a “front-facing space”.
The company’s giant book sales are something to behold, usually filling giant event spaces with table after table of titles bought in bulk from global English language publishers. Families pour in, eager to browse and buy.
Big Bad Wolf is now in 36 cities in 15 countries, among the most recent locations being Nairobi and Dar El Salaam. It has also recently set up a joint venture with Sharjah Publishing City in the UAE, giving it a base from which to supply the region.
The company’s Malaysian owner, Andrew Yap, is a quietly charismatic figure, with tattoos of favourite cars, dragons and roses. He talks with passion about the difference books can make. “I didn’t grow up in a house of books,” he says. “We weren’t rich. My father ran a gas station and all I wanted to do when I grew up was race cars.
“Books were a privilege. The way I see it now is that books are only accessible to those who don’t need them, and books are not accessible to those who need them most.”
He wants to change that and says his mission is to widen access to books, sentiments that tie-in with Sharjah’s many outreach schemes for books.
After school, Yap began working in a garage repairing cars and dreamt of one day racing them. “But it’s too expensive to become a racing driver, so I just began racing saloon cars.” He didn’t have any crashes, but adds with a smile: “Negotiating with publishers is harder than racing cars.”
He stumbled into bookselling via running a newsagent that sold magazine publishers’ overstocks. “Somebody approached us to sell some book overstocks and it went very well.”
So well in fact that it led to Yap establishing a chain of bookstores called BookXcess which now has 20 stores in Malaysia, some of which are open 24 hours. The bulk of the stock are remainders but Yap says publishers are increasingly printing books especially for them now.
Some of the Big Bad Wolf’s events are breath-taking. “In Jakarta we had 5m books on display in a country where people don’t speak English but recognise its importance,” Yap says. “My greatest joy though, is when we run an event that doesn’t make money but you know you’re changing lives and making a difference.”