Malaysia’s answer to Amazon?

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Bookurve’s founders Teoh Lian Shen (left) and Hoessin ArabiBookurve’s founders Teoh Lian Shen (left) and Hossein Arabi.

Last week, I wrote about eSentral, Malaysia’s first and biggest e-book store. This week, I am writing about what is believed to be Malaysia’s online only bookstore: Bookurve. You could say it’s Malaysia’s answer to Amazon.com as the company has no physical outlets.

Founded by two friends, Teoh Lian Shen and Hossein Arabi, Bookurve’s mission is “To promote reading habits among Malaysians with the largest book title selections at a lower price with fast and free delivery”.

Both Lian Shen and Hossein come from an IT background and in fact they were doing IT business before embarking on Bookurve. Both are unabashed admirers of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, whom they regard as amazing because of his business model and strategies.

They started Bookurve about two years ago. “We found that book selections in local stores are rather limited and imported books were also very expensive,” says Lian Shen. “We wanted to let readers search for any books they want and get it cheaper with free delivery to boot.”

Of course readers could order books from Amazon.com, which does deliver to Malaysia. However, the orders take some time to arrive if sent by regular mail. And if sent by express mail, the courier charges can be considered high.

As for comparisons with local bookstores which have online delivery services, Lian Shen says they are always looking for ways to give more value to readers, like offering free delivery and reward points and so on. The company is even working on a feature to allow users to sell second hand books, something the bookstore sites would never do.

To keep overheads low, the company only order books from its distributors once it receives an order from a customer. “If we had to stock lots of books like the bookstores, we wouldn’t be able to give our customers good prices like we do,” says Lian Shen.

The company is still small although business is growing. Currently, it’s still a two-man operation. However, in anticipation of the business expanding in a big way, the two founders have developed an in-house Point-ofSale application that runs on an iPad to help them manage orders.

As an online only business, the company naturally markets its services mainly via online means. “We’ve tried a few different ways of marketing such as Google Adwords and Facebook Ads,” he says. The company also has a banner swapping arrangement with JobsCentral, an online job search company.

Lian Shen says one offline approach that works quite well is to set up booths at universities and colleges to promote their website. “We actually find this to be the most effective way,” he says. “But it takes up a lot of time.”He says marketing is still the biggest challenge for their company. “We need more strategic marketing partners to bring our brand out to Malaysia readers,” he says. “As we can see, once readers try our website, they will become repeat customers.”

BookurveAlthough both of the partners are doing this business full-time, they also do some software development work for iOS and Android. “We recently did some outsourced app development for Bank Rakyat, for example, to help fund Bookurve,” says Lian Shen.

The book retailing business is a tough one, especially in the face of information overload thanks to the World Wide Web. With so much free content online, many people are not buying books anymore.

“To be honest, the book industry is a very tough for start-ups as the margins are not high,” Lian Shen says. He adds however that it’s all worth it when they receive “Thank You” notes from customers who appreciate the service they provide at prices that are reasonable.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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