This is a scene in the early hours of the morning in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the 24-hour twelve-day mega book sale known as Big Bad Wolf is preparing to wind down.
Because of the huge crowds during the day many booklovers head to the sale in the early hours, kids in night clothes, pushing around shopping carts as they feast on books – English-language books – that otherwise would be unavailable.
Visitors travel up to 200km for the sale.
Over the last 11 days (today will be the twelfth ad final day – the sale closes on the stroke of midnight), the SLECC (Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre) has had the energy of a chocolate factory opening its gates to hordes of eager children, sans a golden ticket. For the well- oiled machine that makes up the many young volunteers in their BBW signature aprons or the management that operates quietly at the very heart of the sale, the picture of happy customers lugging away bags of books is the satisfaction that drives them. – Sri Lanka Sunday Times
Big Bad Wolf laid on 1.5 million books for the second year in Sri Lanka, having sold out last year, when 200,000 turned out for the event. Typically the sales clear 80%-90% of stock.
Meanwhile in Cebu, the Philippines, one million books are being lined up this month for the second Philippines BBW sale this year, after the debut sale of 2 million books in Pasay City in February proved enormously successful.
That was followed in March by Big Bad Wolf Jakarta, where BBW laid on 5.5 million books – 4.5 million in English – to cater for the 750,000 people that crammed in over the twelve day 24 hour event.
This year Big Bad Wolf, based in Malaysia, has ten countries lined up and will sell tens of millions of books in places where, or so we are told, people don’t read.
As well as Malaysia Big Bad Wolf ‘s 2018 plan is to hit Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Dubai, South Korea, Taiwan and Iran.
While efforts are being made to incorporate local language books, by far the largest part of the millions of books being sold will be English-language titles, sold at super-low prices that draw crowds of hundreds of thousands.
Big Bad Wolf began life importing remaindered books from the US and UK, with the explicit approval of the publishers as the books were being taken to markets they would not otherwise reach. But such is the success of the Big Bad Wolf phenomenon that the BBW team has been able to negotiate with publishers for additional print runs especially for the sales, to meet demand.
It’s important to understand that while Big Bad Wolf is about print books, this is a digital phenomenon, the excitement and the huge crowds driven by smartphones and tablets that spread the buzz about the sales.
Big Bad Wolf has mastered the Three As problem that inhibits global book sales. That is, Accessibility, Availability and Affordability.
Ebooks of course can offer the same 24/7, 365 days a year, not just in twelve day tranches.
But that requires the active engagement of both suppliers and distributors at a global level, something not yet happening.
Big Bad Wolf is a literary phenomenon in its own right, but perhaps its biggest legacy will be in showing publishers that, if they follow the Three As rule and make digital content available everywhere, accessible on smartphones and tablets and at affordable prices, the international book market could be truly global.
This post first appeared on StreetLib Connect.