Big Bad Wolf hesitantly ventured online in Indonesia on Tokopedia as the pandemic struck. It then set up its own online sales sites in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. 3 million buyers later…

The first Big Bad Wolf Online book sale in Thailand attracted 400,000 buyers. Not bad going for a debut event put together as a last resort because of Covid-19 restrictions, and that was selling English-language books in S.E. Asia.

Now Big Bad Wolf Thailand is set to return December 9-16 and while again there will be 20 million books up for grabs, this time the experience promises to be far better, as Big Bad Wolf learns from its previous incarnations.

Big Bad Wolf co-founder Jacqueline Ng said in a press release to announce the event:

While we hope to one day soon resume our offline sales, the current global situation has driven us to commit ourselves to creating the best online book buying experience for booklovers. Across the various countries we serve, we will continue to ensure affordable books are accessible to everyone. After first launching our e-commerce platform in Thailand, and after moving onto other countries, we decided to bring the sale back to Thailand before the year’s end. Thailand booklovers can benefit from improvements we’ve made in the meantime to the e-commerce platform. We look forward to once again bringing the joy of reading to Thailand readers at affordable prices.

Co-founder Andrew Yap added:

The online sales have performed beyond our expectations, with our success growing from one market to the next. Driven by the challenges the world currently faces, we find these online sales to be a fitting solution. In the future, we envision that our online and offline sales will complement one another so that bookworms are able to shop our sales in multiple ways – whichever experience suits them best.

From a TNPS op-ed in August as the September Big Bad Wolf Thailand Online debut was announced:

Last year Big Bad Wolf, still in in-person physical mode where digital engagement was confined to promoting events, not selling books direct, and the focus was on shipping tens of millions (literally) of new, mostly-English-language books to ten countries. That would be Malaysia, UAE, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Philippines, Pakistan, Myanmar, South Korea and Indonesia.

This year Big Bad Wolf debuted in Cambodia, where it took one million English-language books to Phnom Penh, and was all set to scale new heights when the pandemic arrived.

A Big Bad Wolf live event can attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a shot, who walk away with books to the value of millions of dollars. Last year in Myanmar alone $1.8 million worth of books were sold. The debut event in Cambodia drew over 50,000 visitors in its first four days. At bigger events like Jakarta (Indonesia) crowds of 750,000 were not uncommon.

All this, remember, for mainly English-language print books.

Such demand in one-city events where prospective visitors are limited by travel costs, time and distance means one can only wonder at what sort of demand Big Bad Wolf might see when the entire country is enfranchised.

Well, we now know 400,000 online buyers was the initial answer, leaving the big question, what can Big Bad Wolf pull off this time around, with a new and improved website and an online track record?

For global publishing it’s one more lesson in the power of online and the power of English-language titles. Yet so many publishers around the world are still living by the historical anachronism that is territorial rights, that at best inhibits and at worst prohibits, the sale of books to countries deemed insufficiently interested to be worth bothering with.

Per the August op-ed, there’s no easy way forward for publishers with print books, but there are other options.

Big Bad Wolf comes equipped with a decade of experience and contacts, not to mention shipping partners and partners on the ground, to bulk-transport books to these countries to be locally-delivered upon purchase.
And of course Big Bad Wolf prices, possible because the stock is remaindered, are much lower than regular publishers can compete with. In print, that is.

But digital books… That’s another story. Digital books require no shipping, no physical production costs, no at-home or at-market warehousing, can be bought, delivered and in the hands of the consumer in seconds, and most importantly can be sold from third party websites or, even better, from dedicated publisher sites without leaving the office. Tapping into the demand for English-language titles means no translation costs.

And best of all, these are not competing markets where publishers are having to protect print. Rather they are markets where every sale is a bonus, and where prices can be lowered to competitively local – yes, even to Big Bad Wolf prices – without losing out.

What Big Bad Wolf has shown us this year is that the proven demand for English-language books is matched by the ability and willingness to shop online.

Retail digital books are an obvious next step in these markets for publishers, and a subscription offering perhaps an even smarter move.

For Big Bad Wolf, while it won’t be digital books per se, the online sales won’t be going away.

As Yap said,

In the future, we envision that our online and offline sales will complement one another so that bookworms are able to shop our sales in multiple ways – whichever experience suits them best.

You can’t put the digital genie back in the bottle.