Book industry takes a hit as bookstores close amid MCO

Retail, book fairs contribute a lot to publishers’ revenue, but due to MCO, textbooks’ tender and supply have been suspended


NOT exempted by the impact of Covid-19 and the Movement Control Order (MCO), news broke last week of bookstores closing in unison.

Malaysian Book Publishers Association (MABOPA) president Arief Hakim Sani Rahmat said there were pros and cons for the book industry during the MCO however grim the situation may appear.

“Bookstores had to cease operations throughout the MCO, and book festivals cannot be held for a long period of time, both of which have had a great impact on the book industry’s cashflow.

“However, e-book sales have evolved, though it still remains small. E-commerce for books, too, has grown about three to five times, which I think is going to further increase drastically due to the MCO,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

He said both retail and book fairs contribute a lot to publishers’ revenue, but due to the MCO, textbooks’ tender and supply have been suspended.

“According to our survey conducted in April, around 50% of respondents comprising publishers expected over 50% decrease in sales for the year versus 2019, while 40.7% expected between 25% and 50% fall in sales,” he said.

During the same period, 86% of publishers expressed concerns over the closing of bookstores throughout the MCO, and 11.6% were worried about permanent business closures.

Arief Hakim said, however, there were pros surrounding the MCO, such as increase in e-book sales and online book loaning.

“Though e-book sales are still small, the growth is visible from a low base, while book sales through e-commerce are expected to grow dramatically over the year as it has amplified three to five times during the MCO period.

“Online book loaning has also increased at the national library, which shows people are still reading at home,” he said.

However, on May 27, Iman Publication Sdn Bhd and Iman Shoppe Bookstore founder Dr Nur Aisyah Zainordin posted on her Facebook page that some MPH outlets will be closing.

“Many other bookstores are expected to follow. Sad news for the book industry,” she posted.

Hijau BookValley MD and booktuber Khair Zawawi tweeted a list of the MPH outlets which will shutter, stating that only the shops are closing, not the company.

He also tweeted the possibility that the book industry has been slowing down due to e-books.

“Maybe people are moving to purchasing books online,” he said.

In response to Khair’s thread, Twitter user @nabilhehew said physical books have a special place in his heart over e-books.

“But in this time of new norms, I need to accept the fact and adapt to the changes,” he said.

This news was confirmed last Wednesday when MPH Group (M) Sdn Bhd announced in a statement of its plans to go from a brick-and-mortar business to an e-commerce cum digitalised ecosystem.

MPH Group CEO Donald Kee said the company wants to connect with its customers through multiple touch points, be it online or offline, by adopting an omni-channel approach.

“In addition to our physical stores, plans are also in the pipeline to deploy hi-tech vending machines in strategic locations like light rail transit or mass rail transit stations, universities and hospitals so that we can reach out to customers beyond our physical stores, as well as offer instant gratification to those who can’t wait for their books to be delivered to their homes or offices,” he said in the statement.

Customers can place an order online and choose whether to pick it up from one of its physical stores or from the vending machine while on-the-go.

All non-performing retail outlets will be consolidated to channel more of its resources to scale up its e-commerce and digital business division, while still retaining profitable store presence in key locations.

While some members of the public expressed their regret over the closure of some MPH outlets, others attributed it to the high price they needed to pay for books.

Twitter user @iman__sab said the closures were not only due to the rise of e-books, but the books sold at major bookstores are expensive.

“I personally feel like crying looking at the price tag sometimes.

“While books sold at independent bookstores are more affordable, many bibliophiles also prefer to buy from online stores that offer better prices and are easier to purchase,” she said.

Alternative bookstores popular among Malaysians include BookXcess, which is also the host of the highly sought-after Big Bad Wolf Book Sale, and Bookalicious.