Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Quick Guide to Bookshop Chains

This is for Walker and others across the world, bemused when we talk about our local bookshops. What's MPH? What's Kino? What strange code are we talking in? This is a whistle-stop tour of the bigger bookshop chains here.

Booklovers were very poorly served here until quite recently. The explosion in the number of bookshops has gone hand in hand with the growth of huge shopping malls around the city.


MPH is the biggest chain bookshop and can claim to be the oldest, since it was originally set up as Methodist Publishing House 100 years ago. (Watch out for anniversary celebrations throughout the year!) It now has 26 outlets in Malaysia including 19 in the Klang Valley (that's the connurbation created by Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and surrounding areas). The two biggest stores are in Mid Valley Megamall (opened 2000) and I Utama (opened just a couple of years ago). A big effort has been made with making the stores customer friendly with reading areas (the one in Megamall even has a "courtyard" area with potted plants and a fountain!) and a cafe. A customer loyalty scheme (the MRC card) bags you an annual rebate in the form of book vouchers (Just got mine and have RM117 - enough for a hardback! - to spend) and other benefits (discount on my creative writing course, invitations to previews of the 'warehouse sales'!)

The store is making an effort to support local writers with it's Writer's Circle and also has a full calendar of in-store events.

MPH is also the main book distributor for Malaysia and supplies most of the other bookshops, and also has a publishing arm.


Generally smaller stores than MPH. No website that I can find! (Opportunity missed, someone!) I go to the branch in Bangsar Shopping Complex and love the display of latest books by the entrance: too tempting, I never escape without a hole in my pocket.

Most of all I love the fact that I get a hefty 10% discount on books with my Times loyalty card and 20% in my birthday month.


Popular Bookstore has been around for a very long time in Malaysia and Singapore, specialising in titles in Chinese and discounted books. It has a very big store in the Chinatown area in the city centre. Recently it seems to have reinvented itself, and the new branch in Ikano Power Station has a pretty good selection of fiction and other titles in English. Organises events and has a customer loyalty card.


Borders is the new kid on the block. The first branch was opened in Times Berjaya Square last year, and is supposed to be the "biggest Borders in the world". Perhaps it is in terms of floor space. It certainly isn't overstocked in terms of books. Titles are shipped in from the US and some are more expensive than at other bookstores (I found this with the prices of Oxford dictionaries for example, which the other stores source locally), so it pays to compare prices. There's a branch of Starbucks in-store. Some move recently to host in-store events.

A new branch recently opened at The Curve (distressingly near to my house!) A very pleasant place to loiter.


I've saved the best for last. Kinokuniya is actually a Japanese chain and the KL store sits on the top floor of Suria KLCC, the shopping complex that nestles between the twin towers.

This is book lovers heaven. Even visiting novelists of note (no names to be dropped today) have been impressed and spent hours browsing. It's extremely well-stocked. Very wide range of fiction titles. Interesting in-store promotions (I love the themed displays by the entrance). Generous discounts on featured titles. Generally very clued up staff. Pleasant ambience and a cafe upstairs with a panoramic view of the KLCC park.

Walker, will that do for a start?

The rest of you, anything I forgot to say?

Related posts:

Bookshop Snakes and Ladders (19/6/05)
How Squidgy is Your Bookshop (30/11/05)


boo_licious said...

Excellent summary Sharon. I personally love Kino and I think I suffer from book addiction as I can't go into a bookshop without buying one.

starlight said...

someone should be paying you for this. great summary!

Kak Teh said...

thanks sharon. now I know there's others apart from kino and mph. btw - got my pass for the London book Fair 5th - 7th march. coming?

eyeris said...

you forgot PAYLESS BOOKS! :D

Anonymous said...

I really love your bits & bites, they are always wonderful to read. How I wish I could write like you.

Anonymous said...

What about Silverfish & Skoobs? PAYLESS is best, well if you're lucky.

Amir Hafizi said...

Kinokuniya has the best comics section, paying attention to excellent titles.

I never thought I could get some European comics at a normal bookstore.

Their promotions are also good. 20-40% off with another purchase.

And they had this other promotion which gives you RM10 for every RM50 spent.

Bought RM200, got RM40. Add RM10 to the coupons, you get another RM50 purchase, so receive another RM10.

Finally purchased a RM10 magazine which came with a bag, free.

Damn. And who says capitalism doesn't work?

bibliobibuli said...

boolicious - we really must set up a support group for book addiction!

starlight - thanks ... *sigh* if only!

kak teh - jealous you're going to the london book fair without me - please blog it extensively so i can enjoy it vicariously and take your camera along

eyeris, natasya - did not forget payless! how could i have done?
you'll have to wait for the second installment - and i'll write about skoob too and silverfish

peacelover - thanks for your kind words

amir - thanks for adding this

Allan Koay 郭少樺 said...

what about rental shops and Junk Bookstore?

Anonymous said...

Personally, Kinokuniya and Borders are my favouites, and I never fail to visit one of them to look and 'lust', whenever I make a trip to KL (or S'pore). I have generally been very disappointed with MPH, especially since they are mainly heavily stocked up on 'utilitarian' and 'functional' books, not that they are wrong in doing so, but it only further confirms and exacerbates the poverty of Malaysian reading habits.

I am really grateful that Kino and Borders have come to Malaysia...though foreign, they are saviours to the Malaysian public.

P.S. Arrghhh...I am going to miss the book sales always. What to do, when one lives in a town where the main bookshop stocks School asssessment books and old Sidney Sheldon books...Argh.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sharon, you are fantastic. I really wasn't expecting such a thorough've even pre-empted questions I was going to who is the main, national distributor, etc.

The MPH store in the picture looks rather cool, large and spacious. Nothing like the crammed, stuffy bookstores I'm used to here in Blighty.

118MYR = approx £18? Doesn't sound bad for a hardback. Zadie Smith's On Beauty is listed at £16.99 here...although few stores sell at the list price.

q said...

excellent post! i would love to find out more about the independent bookstores, thanks :-)

sky said...

so we also have a popular bookstore in the philippines, except that when you ask where it is and nobody knows, its name becomes ironic.

bibliobibuli said...

visitor - *mentally adds to the list of things to write about*

dreamer idiot, square smiley - yes agree about the "utilitarian" books in MPH - a lot on business, a lot of self-help ... and also a lot of space for non-book items ... even chocs in megamall! (mph have diversified to become a "lifestyle" store) ... but i can always find somthing i really want in the fiction section and on several occasions mph have come to my rescue when i've needed a particular book in a tearing hurry, checking on the database for stock city-wide ...

walker - it's a pleasure ... am enjoying it ... and as you can see i'm nowhere near the end of the topic ... lots of gaps in my knowledge that i'm still trying to fill

q - yes, the independents, will do my best to oblige

sky - that's a lovely irony! i did like powerbooks when i was in manila ...

flexnib said...

Great summary, Sharon! My husband and I love Kinokuniya and everytime we visit KL or Singapore we end up spending a good proportion of our time, and holiday money, in Kino. The first Kino I ever went to was the Singapore one on Orchard Road, and I thought I was in some sort of heaven. Next to Kino, Borders doesn't impress me at all, for some reason. Popular is good for Chinese material, although it makes my head hurt, probably because I read Chinese slowly and somewhat laboriously... Haven't visited Times or MPH shops in years! Maybe next time I'm in KL..

bibliobibuli said...

sqare smiley - *LOL*

cw - it looks like kino wins hands down! what's your favourite australian bookshop?

Anonymous said...

Whenever I balik kampung to Singapore, I will visit Kinokuniya. The same goes with KLCC lah. There's no reason to go to KLCC without visiting Kinokuniya even when I'm broke.

Greenbottle said...

there was one article i read a long long time ago about a book lover who have a very specialised bookstore somewhere in new memory is rusty.. but the gist is ... she just stock books that she likes and opens the store anytime she likes...and sometimes open only by appointments...i fell in love with this woman...if her bookstore is here i'd go and ask her to marry me...she may be an old grandmother now but doesnt matter..i'll just have sex with her grand daughter...

__mars said...

WHAT!? Borders is not the best? We an Ann Arborite neophyte demand a recout!

Anonymous said...

kino kino it is... i find borders at times square too huge. felt i was in some hypermart. another place i spend way too much money is at silverfish books.

but i do miss waterstones and dillons...

Anonymous said...

Kino gets my vote, over and over again. Still spend a lot of time unwrapping the books and discarding the plastic in corners of the bookshelves.
However need to avoid the place whenever I'm feeling financially tight.

Miss Waterstones too. I believe that Dillons was taken over by them, is that right Walker/ Kak Teh?

Anonymous said...

Yep, Dillons was taken over by Waterstones in 1999. I miss the former because they had more stores within a ten mile radius when I was growing up -- so there's a sort of sentimental attachment I guess. It's a cooler brandname as well. ;)