Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How Squidgy is Your Bookshop?

Are our bookshops squidgy enough? Yes, squidgy. You heard me right.

Retail analayst Paul Smiddy is a London booklover who writes an occasional column for The Bookseller. He dispenses advice about how book shops can increase their profitability by enhancing the pleasurability of book buying and, at the same time, build customer loyalty.

And he wanders around British bookshops to see how they measure up, evaluating them according to his own squidgy rating to assess the ambience of the store. A bookshop should be somewhere where you want to linger and browse - otherwise why not just do your one-click stuff on Amazon?

He also mentions customer loyalty scemes which UK bookstores tend to be bad at ("...rarer than Ian Fleming first editions") unlike, I must say, Malaysian book retailers. (My purse won't close because of all the cards!)

A factor that seems to come into the equation in the Malaysian context is the wrapping of books in plastic. Wrap 'em and keep them clean at the expense of tempting readers to browse them, or have them unwrapped and be prepared to write off a certain proportion of your stock. That's the dilemma. Yes, you can go to the customer service desk to get them unwrapped, but how many of us bother? (Random Thoughts blogged about this the other day.)

I'm proposing a bibiobibuli award for Malaysia's squidgiest bookshop (based purely on ambience - not on the range of books they carry) and nominations are now open.

Sadly, Smiddy doesn't provide us with a copy of his rating scale. (If you google your name Mr. Smiddy and find yourself here by accident, please could you send us a copy?)

Here's my list of factors to take into account:
seating for browsers
general look of the place
temperature, light, smell, noise level
browsability of books
availability of coffee
attitude of security staff
Have I missed anything?

Okay, your nominations please ...


Anonymous said...

Skoobs at Old Towm PJ, this place is beaming with old world charm and the proprietor is a jolly good conversationist has recommended me some good (albeit difficult- to me at least) stuff (eg. Lawrence Durell, Hisaye Yamamoto, Mary Renault)

q said...

i can only comment on bookstore close to me.

i go to the popular bookstore at ikano, and it's where i've been getting many of my books lately. but i really only like the left part of the store as you enter it. the rest seems too open and don't feel like a bookstore.

i also go to the mph at 1 utama, but it's very rare for many months now. i like the books, the layout of the store, well most of everything EXCEPT the temperature. i think it's just crazy. do their books need to be chilled at a certain winter temperature? i can't even bare to go within 10 meters from their entrance. on the rare occasion that i find it necessary to go into the store, i go out feverish. am i the only one who think it's too cold there? it is the coldest corner of 1utama, brr. i keep meaning to leave a comment with the store but that means entering their premises. maybe there are mph employees who read your weblog.

i don't really mind that some books are wrapped. it is because if i want the only copy they've got left, i want it in good condition. but if it's not, stores here don't give a discount for slightly damaged books.

Unknown said...

A place called "The Bookshop" off Burmah Road in Penang. Very cosy set up..

mudslinger said...

i like the idea of books being wrapped. i treasure my books and would not want to buy a soiled or thumbed-through copy of a book. bookstores should have a browsing copy available.

i like kino and mph in midvalley, but they do not have enough places to sit. i remember being 'admonished' by a personel of kino for sitting on the floor. i wasn't blocking anyone but i guess they don't like people sitting around like that. well, they should provide more seating areas.

Anonymous said...

I like Borders mainly because they have more books to uhhm browse. I've been there twice, and on both times I came back with aching feet and 2 books :P

boo_licious said...

My perspective is on cookbooks as I love browsing through them and buying them. To me, Kinokuniya is still the best in terms of selection. Second is Borders. Will be interesting to see what the new outlet in the Curve has to offer when it opens tmrw. MPH's cookbook selection is horrendous while Times is quite decent. The only worthwhile Popular outlet is the one in the Curve.

Anonymous said...

Squidgy for children: has to be the star carpeted platform at Times, BSC where Sara practiced her walking - although I'm sure that's not what its there for. It's an excellent place to sit, shoeless on the carpet, read aloud to your child only to discover you have attracted an audience of children and eavesdropping adults, while your own child is several meters away playing with everyone's shoes.

I have a complaint about Kino - why did the remove the benches that were in the middle of the history and travel shelves? That was excellent at lunch time as loads of people would just sit there and read. Now we have nowhere to sit.

One lovely spot in Kino belongs to the children - its the spot that overlooks the fountains below. It is typically occupied by gossipping babysitting maids watching the children pull the books off the shelves. Hey, that's ambience.

Can Kino please emulate MPH by having little chairs and tables for the kids, well actually why not sofas for adults as well?

Why are there no sofas in bookshops here?

MPH in Bangsar Village is definitely squidy - small and cluttered most of the time, it contains loads of hiding spots for people like me who love sitting cross legged on the floor, nose in a book, only leaning forward when someone needs to climb over me. The shop assistants are wonderful - they leave me in peace.

Oh and if you need a cup of tea and conversation of the dearth of literature in this country, well you know where to go in Bangsar.


Cheeky Monkey said...

All of us are saying why don't these bookshops have more chairs so that we can read. But we have to understand from their perspectives, I'm afraid. I mean, they run a business and as much as they would like for you to be comfortable and provide you chairs while browsing, but their main objective is to SELL books not let customers read them for FREE. :P

If they don't make enough money, they start closing their chains one by one and who knows, no more bookshops, no more books for us to read!!! And I think if MPH, one of the biggest book chains, starts to close, it's very bad news. :P

I've also seen people sitting at the MPH fountain area, reading the books and magazines....they just leave them there on the floor and under benches after reading them! And worse, it's all in bad condition most of the time!! Going to the magazine section you can see covers of magazines folded, torn off...I mean, if Malaysians don't treat their books and magazines well, how do you expect the bookshops NOT to wrap them??? You would think that these people actually purposely spoil them to get discounts cause they know they can get it if it's damaged. :P

Greenbottle said...

i hate bookstores that sell textbooks, self help books computer books and all those cookbooks, or reader's digest.....or that sell coffee and tea...bookstores should be book stores and not somekind of supermarket selling all kind of things...

i like bookstores that have characters...that sell 'specialed books' know just books on art, or books just for lesbians or all those smaller bookstores along charing cross road in london...i hate big souless kino, mph or malaysia

so yes...skoob is good...but my alltime favorite is the huge "strand" in new york that sells remainders and discount books... where people use TROLLEYS to buy books....where you can see real book addicts with heads tilted sideways reading the bookspines oblivious to everything around them...

Anonymous said...

"Squidgy" reminds me of Princess D (and that infamous phonecall.)

I agree about the "slightly damaged". The binding is stretched, the pages are looser, there's human oil on the cover.. ew.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah and about the conditions :

(1) Cheap

(2) Has ONE browsing copy and several nicely wrapped ones

(3) Has website + online ordering + online browsing (nothing says "squidgy" as much as browsing in your underwear, especially considering the usual state of my room.)

(4) Must do silly things once in a while -- that's got to add to the squidginess. MPH Mid Valley is at the moment playing a movie that appears to be Bruce Lee's "The Big Boss". That doesn't seem to be connected to any promotion at all.

(5) Must have people that hide between the books (or the bookshelves) only to jump out and yell "BOO !" when you look too closely at a book.

(6) Some guy with interesting initials promoting his latest book. I swear there was a writer called "DMFK" once. I remember this because he had "DMFK" in really big letters all over the display. "The Mind of DMFK" it said. Sorry, too much information.

bibliobibuli said...

I loved your responses ... and it seems there is really no simple answer to this question of sqidginess, because different things turn on different people (bookishly speaking of course!)

soowm - i love Skoob too and must make my way there again soon now that i have more bookshelf space

mudslinger - i like to bring home wrapped copies too and sometimes even leave them wrapped until i get round to reading them because the climate here isn't kind to them ... i have suffered from the officious security guards at kino as well ... especailly one day when i was taking a snap of my books on the shelves (being a "made it" writer of sorts and wanting to stick the evidence up on my wall)

bawangmerah - borders seems very happy about folks "browsing" (that great sport also known as "free reading' in malaysia) - while i was awaitng for a gift to be wrapped the salesgirl actually said to me "why don't you sit and read some magazines"

boo_licious - but is the ambience as tasty as the contents? i don't dare look at cookbooks or i'd want them all!!

animah - squidgy for kids opens up a whole new dimension

anisah - that burmah road bookshop sounds wonderful and i must make a trip there when i'm next in penang - i love "preloved" books too! i love to know who owned a book before me

cheeky monkey - it's a tough question for bookshops - there's little reading culture here in malaysia so the bookshops have to actually build the readership - make books desirable - so that they can boost sales - but working against that working well is the kiasu mentality of many people. it has to be about striking a balance. and meanwhile, can we have a few more chairs?

greenbottle - oh yes, charing cross road. book heaven. i will definitely be wandering around all those little shops as soon as i get back to london. goodness though, i'd love to visit that new york bookshop ...

jane sunshine - someone should put that kind of smell into a spray can so that bookshop owners could waft it around and persuade us to browse

anon - love your list especially 5)!

Anonymous said...

Err, didn't The Bookshop in Penang close shop a year ago?

I heard there were plans to open one here in K.L. but need more info.

Anonymous said...

Agree with 'q' that MPH 1U is freezing. However, if the book you're holding is the last copy they have and is dog-eared or otherwise slightly damaged, MPH will give a discount. I'm not sure whether the discount depends on how badly managled the book is -- I got a 5% discount once. (You have to point out the damage and ASK for the discount.)

bibliobibuli said...

aneeta - i hope someone can answer this for us!

irene - yes, i find mph 1 utama arctic ... i was teaching my creative writing classes there and by the end of the evening we got too cold to speak

Chet said...

I was sure it was 88 but after checking the IMDB site, found that it was 84, Charin Cross Road.

I remember walking up the row of shops and finding that 84 was still a bookstore but selling foreign books. This was back in the late 80s.

A few doors from #84 was Silver Moon, a popular bookstore for women's writing. And I think in North London there was a similar bookstore called SisterWrite.

Anonymous said...

my all time favourite bookstore is the old skoobs at brickfields. that is super squidgy with books bursting from bookshelves that are beautifully distressed from age and weight of books. just the right amount of mustiness in the air too, that makes you feel as if you were trapped in a timeless bookish realm. needless to say - they've got an orgasmic collection of books and thor is tops as a walking book encyclopedia.

the new skoobs at old town has its appeal too, it is charming and quaint. but i still love the old skoobs - it feels like a book forest.

my next favourite bookstore is junk bookstore at masjid jamek. almost like thor - adelyn has vast knowledge in books and i love picking her brains. books books everywhere, they seem to grow from the shelves. tad bit too dusty, but the books are wrapped lovingly in order to preserve. very pricey with a lot of rare gems. definately squidgy.

another squidgy bookish place - chowrasta in penang. cheap! but uncategorized which makes book hunting a headache. the owner seems to know where everything is though, but there is no way anyone can go through all their books.

new bookstores (the ones i mentioned were all second hand bookstores) that i really love - kino. they segregate the books properly unlike borders. but i love borders too because they ship in different varieties and have a book accesories section! (moleskin journals, book thongs, book marks, book light clips! oh delights!) what is great about these two are sturdy floor to ceiling wooden shelves :) in fact - the old kino (embedded inside isetan) had the gliding ladder that libraries have.

not very much a fan of mph because their selections are not comprehensive enough. and i can't say much about payless because i dont visit them very often. times has a good selection as well but they don't have enough stores around.

q said...

hmm i have to check out this junk bookstore near masjid jamek. can anyone give me the exact location please? thanks.

i love the ones at chowrasta, which was a favourite to go to while i went to school in penang. the few times that i want there the last couple of years though, never found any to be open :-(

Anonymous said...

q: their number is 03-20783822. they are behind hsbc.

Anonymous said...

Suddenly realized why I don't like the new BC.. it's not squidgy. I remember the old BC.. row upon row of books.. many of which were seriously weird. There was a whole row full of user manuals for some obscure operating system. There was Morte d'Arthur (most beautiful book I've seen, even though it didn't make a whole lot of sense back then.)

Even the smell of it.. slightly moldy and too cold.