If we ever wanted a barometer of interest in English-language books in countries English-language publishers are indifferent to, we need look no further than Big Bad Wolf.
From May 31 through June 10, with a preview day on May 30, Big Bad Wolf will be piling up one million English language books in Mandalay in Myanmar.
Myanmar? That will be Burma to those of us who learned our geography many moons ago.
But what’s really exciting is that Big Bad Wolf is back in Myanmar for the second time this year and it’s only May!
Earlier this year (January for those keeping count) Big Bad Wolf debuted in Myanmar with a one million book 24/7 11 –day book sale in the new capital, Yangon.
Like every inaugural event this was a huge gamble for Andrew Yap and Jacqueline Ng, the team behind Big Bad Wolf. Put simply, it costs millions of dollars to buy and to to ship a million books to a distant land, then get them to the venue, and the organisation needed to set up the show in advance, find a location that can handle this volume, get all the necessary permissions and then to make it happen and run smoothly is a phenomenal achievement.
And to do all this with a million English-language books in a country where English is at best the second language… What if nobody came?
Yet come they did, in their hundreds of thousands, and such was the demand that Big Bad Wolf is back in Myanmar for its second run, with who knows how many more to follow.
At a press conference reported by Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, Big Bad Wolf Myanmar organiser U Myo Aung, who is also director of Ready to Read Myanmar, said:
The books sale event in Yangon was incredibly successful, drawing thousands of people. Now, at the encouragement and request of book enthusiasts from upper Myanmar, we are bringing the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale to Mandalay. We view this as part of our ongoing effort to ignite a reading movement in Myanmar.
U Myo Aung further explained that the main purpose of the book sale is,
to allow more people in Myanmar to read English-language books at very affordable prices. In Myanmar, we have few bookshops selling English-language books, and most of them are expensive. That’s why I want to this event to happen; there will be a selection of books for all reading levels. We hope to create a new generation of readers, and also hope it contributes to the improvement of English literacy rates in Myanmar.
Dipak Madhavan, group head of marketing at Big Bad Wolf Books, said,
It is a pleasure for all of us at Big Bad Wolf Books to be back in Myanmar again, this time in Mandalay. The overwhelming support we received early this year encouraged us to organize the sale in Mandalay.
But let’s get to the bigger picture here.
Put simply, if Big Bad Wolf can draw enough interest in Myanmar to justify taking one million books for an eleven day flash sale that needs to run 24/7 to fit everybody in – and not once but twice – just how much more demand might there be for English-language books if they were readily available across the country at affordable prices?
At which point we need of course to remind ourselves that Big Bad Wolf deals in remaindered titles, bought in bulk from the US and UK.
That’s a story in its own right – that publishers in the US and UK can safely invest in larger print runs knowing most of the books will not be pulped and they will at least get a token return.
But what’s really exciting here is the huge demand Big Bad Wolf is proving to exist for English-language titles in countries where, or so conventional wisdom has it, people don’t read much even in their first language, let alone in English.
Of course it is not at all realistic for publishers to send English-language books around the world in this volume, and the demand would rapidly diminish if they charged western prices.
But digital allows publishers in New York or London to sell a book in Mandalay or Yangon with all but zero additional production and distribution costs. Would it not be better to sell a $15 ebook in Myanmar at $5, $3 or even $1, than not sell it in Myanmar at all?
Repeat for much of the world where English-language books are all but impossible to come by outside big cities.
That said, reality has to be confronted. Amazon’s Kindle store isn’t available in Myanmar, nor is Apple, Nook or Google Play. Kobo can be accessed in Myanmar, but Kobo doesn’t allow publishers to offer books in Myanmar at other than US prices.
That’s a big miss for Kobo, and something Michael Tamblyn might want to address at some stage, especially in mind his recent talk about how publishers are leaving money on the table by not playing the global ebook cards efficiently.
More on the Tamblyn speech in a dedicated post.
Here just to wind up with kudos to Big Bad Wolf for proving once again that, as we say so often here at TNPS, the global book market is so much bigger than you think.