Publishing has for so long managed on the axiom that, “if it just about works, no matter how inefficiently, don’t even think about fixing it”, that it continues to shun even the most simple changes in thinking that could up new market reach and revenue streams.

It took a pandemic to force Malaysia-based Big Bad Wolf to first venture online with its mega-sale of English-language books across Asia, but as some countries open up to in-person events again it’s clear hybrid will be the future. And the reason is simple: Expanded reach.

At home, Big Bad Wolf is about to kick off its “Malaysia Tour” with an in-person event at the Tropicana Gardens Convention Centre, Kota Damansara running April 29 through May 10 simultaneously with an online version for the entire country’s 29 million internet users to engage with. This follows a successful hybrid event earlier this month centred on an in-person event at Johor Bahru.

Meanwhile preparations are underway for Sri Lanka’s fifth Big Bad wolf event, which for the second year running will be online (May 5-21).

As ever, it’s all about English-language books, shipped in huge volumes from the UK and US and sold at crazy discounts in countries where mostly English is not even the second language.

In a video-conferenced press release early this past week Big Bad Wolf co-founder Andrew Yap said:

As we return to Sri Lanka shores for the fifth time this year via our second Online Book Sale, we’re indeed excited to be able to reach far more people online and continue on our mission to nurture the reading habit amongst children and adults alike.

Far more people being the 7 million internet users in Sri Lanka who would never have been able to get to the traditional in-person event in Colombo.

Repeat for the wider Big Bad Wolf markets and we can begin to appreciate why hybrid is here to stay for Yap and partner co-founder Jacqueline Ng. Big Bad Wolf ended 2020, having managed only a handful of in-person events over the twelve months, with over 3 million online buyers.

While the duo are committed to bringing books to new audiences, it’s unlikely they are thinking, yet, about the logical next stage in their evolution – 24/ 365 digital books – and that’s a huge opportunity for anyone out there watching how Big Bad Wolf has repeatedly demonstrated the demand for affordable English-language books in these countries.

No publisher or distributor could expect to compete with Big Bad Wolf delivering affordable print books to these markets. That’s a niche Big Bad Wolf has single-handedly created and will continue to own.

But with digital, prices and supply could be matched, and at some time this decade that’s almost certain to happen.

The big obstacle will be the publishers themselves, happy perhaps to make an exception with territorial rights for the remaindered stock that makes up Big Bad Wolf’s operation, but day to day treating territorial rights, anachronistic and nonsensical as they are, as sacrosanct.

Publishing has for so long managed on the axiom that, “if it just about works, no matter how inefficiently, don’t even think about fixing it”, that it continues to shun even the most simple changes in thinking that could bring new market reach and revenue streams.

Again, Big Bad Wolf has demonstrated beyond doubt the insatiable demand for English-language books in countries where we might assume English is spoken by so few as to not be worth the bother.

Might we see some re-thinking as the pandemic begins to ease? Probably not, but we can dream.

The big rethink publishers need to cope with as regards territorial rights is perhaps so simple it is just not on their radar, but it’s this: Slapping a territorial restriction on a US or UK-released book being sold in Thailand or Sri Lanka, South Korea or Taiwan, the UAE or Myanmar, or Pakistan or Cambodia, to name just a few Big Bad Wolf markets, does not protect one single sale back in the US and UK. Not one.

Yet here is Big Bad Wolf, for more than a decade now, showing that those same books can be shipped, distributed and sold at a profit in exactly these countries publishers have chosen to rule out.

And with digital of course there are no physical production costs, no shipping costs, and no need to be on the ground in each target country.

The question is not if but when publishers will wake up to this incredible opportunity Big Bad Wolf has lain bare.

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