If you are a book lover, you will definitely be familiar with the pleasurable experience of opening up a book for the first time. You sit yourself down in a quiet corner, take in the comfortable scent of the printed pages, and enthusiastically prepare to step forth into a new, enlightening world of words.
As we grow up and enter the digital age, such experiences seem to only exist as fading memories of our childhoods. Our lives are now shaped by interactive visual worlds on the bright screens of our mobile devices.
However, Jeffrey and Crystal believe that not all hope is lost.
In May this year, they launched BookWhale.com, Singapore’s first online marketplace that helps local book lovers buy and sell preloved books easily. By merging the digital platform with the world of print, they seek to rekindle Singaporeans’ love for reading.
How BookWhale.com Was Launched
Jeffrey first came up with this business idea after having sold a few of his books on online selling platforms. It was troublesome to list each book, describe the plot and condition in detail, and endure long conversations with buyers.
His entrepreneurial mind kicked in, and Jeffrey found a freelancer who connected an interface allowing access to the ISBNdb book database with an ISBN search bar. By creating such an online function, anyone can scan a book’s ISBN code and conveniently list a book for sale.
After just two months, BookWhale.com was born.
It was not the brainchild of Jeffrey alone; Jeffrey’s girlfriend, Crystal, had actively discussed ideas about improving the website and the business with him. She eventually left her corporate job and officially joined him in working as a startup founder.
The couple complemented one another: Jeffrey, who has a local Master’s Degree in Business Administration, focuses on the business and technical aspects of their startup venture, while Crystal works on marketing their business on social media and other platforms.
A Hassle-free Book Marketplace
The couple believes that BookWhale.com could cater to tech-savvy book lovers who are busy with school and work, and will prefer an online platform that provides a hassle-free buying and selling experience.
To sell a book, a seller only needs to scan the book’s ISBN code, state the preferred selling price and rate the book condition. Once a buyer indicates interest, a prepaid and pre-addressed mailer will be sent to the seller to mail the book out.
BookWhale.com also provides buyers with ratings directly from Goodreads, and allows buyers to compare the book’s price and condition if there are two or more users selling the same book. All refunds will also be guaranteed if the buyer realizes that the book received is not in its promised condition.
For every successful deal, both the buyer and seller will also receive Gold Stars. These rewards can be used for future incentives on the website such as exchanging them for free books.
Printed Books Are Not Dead
As a young entrepreneur, Jeffrey’s venture into BookWhale.com was met with skepticism from many who knew about his business idea. What worried most people was the small local market, and the demand for books that seems to be dwindling.
However, Jeffrey and Crystal firmly believe that print is not dead.
“Humans are, after all, tactile learners,” Crystal writes in an online blog post from Bookwhale.com. “We like to touch and feel the pages of a mass-market paperback.”
Jeffrey also adds that book lovers’ obsession with the smell of books is due to our brain’s associations of the smell with the pleasant experience of reading. Despite the convenience of e-books, physical books are irreplaceable because of the sensory experiences they bring to readers.
Just this year, Jeffrey and Crystal organized the BookWhale Reading Movement to collect old books, which were placed in BookWhale Bookshelves at selected local cafes.
The success of this movement was proof that print is still alive: they have since gathered hundreds of books from collectors of all ages in Singapore, including many vintage books dating back to the 1970s and 80s.
The BookWhale Bookshelves provided cafe patrons the opportunity to grab selected books for free, or to swap and donate their old books. The couple revealed that many of the popular titles on the bookshelves had found new owners.
While the movement has already ended, a Bookwhale Bookshelf will be permanently placed at Carpenter & Cook. However, Jeffrey and Crystal are interested in continuing this project, and are looking to partner up with new cafes. They are also currently collaborating with The Sustainability Project, a local store advocating for sustainable living, where similar bookshelves will be seen whenever the store organises pop-up booths in Singapore.
Jeffrey explains that book lovers nowadays have changed their buying preferences, and they often do more research before choosing which book to read.
While many still prefer printed books, Jeffrey observes in a blog post that readers’ decisions “are backed not just by word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, but by tons of reviews and price aggregators”, which explains the adding of these functions onto BookWhale’s online platform.
Plans For Singapore, And Beyond
Other than making constant improvements to the website based on helpful feedback from users, Jeffrey and Crystal also plan to work with several other local organizations to spread the word about reading.
Locally, BookWhale.com aims to organise events so that more youths will be encouraged to read, such as hosting events that work with secondhand bookstores and local cafes. Another one of their aims is to provide support to the SingLit movement, so that more people will recognize the hidden talent of local writers.
In fact, they have just received support from the National Library Board to access the local books database. By doing so, BookWhale.com’s users can now easily buy and sell SingLit books on the platform.
“We hope to develop a vibrant secondhand SingLit market, where we can support the current SingLit readership,” Crystal says.
As ambitious entrepreneurs, Jeffrey and Crystal have never stopped trying to take things a step further. Beyond spreading the word locally, they have also considered entering overseas markets such as mainland China. Crystal explains that China has a strong culture of reading, which generates a larger demand for secondhand books.
Jeffrey has made several ventures into the business scene before – he is thus aware of the risks that entrepreneurship will bring.
In fact, Jeffrey and Crystal joked that they have always been “quiet rebels” in life, and have always made plans based on their own beliefs rather than allowing the society to dictate their future goals.
Rekindling A Childhood Love
My conversation with Jeffrey and Crystal finally landed on a discussion about reading habits in Singapore.
The three of us agreed that as Singaporeans shift their attention to new priorities such as work and marriage; many of us neither have the time nor see the need to read books.
Technology also plays a big role. Jeffrey believes that there is “too much stimuli” online, providing its users with instant gratification, and few people have the patience to read anymore. He jokingly states that he refuses to use social media, and Crystal has to handle all the work on BookWhale’s social media accounts.
Even if people read, many read for the sake of gaining knowledge, rather than doing so for the love of reading.
“We want to bring people back to their childhoods, where they will learn to enjoy reading again,” Jeffrey explains. In fact, the brightly-coloured cartoon design of their logo embodies this hope the couple has for BookWhale.com.
Hopefully, this will encourage Singaporeans to pick up reading once more, a habit that many of us have forgotten about for good.
To find out more, head over to their website here.