musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Dasa Books’

Books! Chinese! Trump! Madness!

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Looking at the calendar, it’s suddenly obvious that this month is almost finished! Damn, another manic, whirlwind thirty days. Business has very brisk at my bookshop in Bangkok, so busy that I rarely have time to even sit down read a book myself when I’m in the shop most days. When it’s time to close up, all I want to do is go home and drink a couple of cold beers and try to unwind after another stressful day.

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Traditionally, the year-end holidays are always busy for us, but that heightened period of retail activity extends to the Chinese New Year — or Lunar New Year — period in late January or early February, depending on the lunar cycle. This year has been no exception, with regular customers combined with hordes of tourists passing through Bangkok, either spending time in Thailand or in transit to a neighboring country.  And it’s not, as you might assume, a lot of Chinese. Yes, there are indeed many tourists from Mainland China and even Hong Kong and Taiwan, but this holiday period is also observed in countries in the region such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and even Vietnam and residents of those countries also travel during this time. And it’s not just natives of those countries, but foreigners working in those countries that are getting a long holiday break and many are spending it in Thailand.

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This time of year I also see the usual throngs of Western tourists, many of them who are making an annual visit to Thailand. It’s fun to see these once-a-year regulars and catch up on how they are doing. Holidays or not, the trend I’ve noticed in the past year is a noticeable increase in the number of Asian customers in my bookshop. And it’s interesting to note that many of these Asians are reading and buying English language books. And in these dark days of Trumpovich and his evil regime, the fact that people in other countries — yes, Muslims included! — are looking for English language books and reading them and buying them, is a very encouraging sign.

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The seemingly illiterate Trump and his evil cronies might be intent on cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, and trying to make America white again (that is what he means, right?), but the rest of us — those with working brains — will carry on, trying to pursue our hopes and dreams, and reading good books!

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Music CDs at Dasa in Bangkok

Well, somebody had to do it.

After several years of thinking about it, debating the pros and cons, and talking it over with my business partner, I defied conventional business wisdom and forged ahead last month, adding secondhand music CDs to the product mix at Dasa Books, my shop in Bangkok.

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My decision to “try it and see what happens” has pretty much been my way of doing business. Throughout more than thirty years of managing or owning various retail businesses, I have consistently defied conventional wisdom and simply done what I wanted, or what I thought customers might want, regardless of popularity or trends. I’ve found that if you cater to a niche market and know your product you can succeed.  And CDs have become one such niche market. But nowadays, even in a city as large and cosmopolitan as Bangkok, finding a good selection of music on CD, either new or secondhand, is becoming more and more difficult. Frankly, the selection in local shops sucks. To find CDs that I want, I have to either buy them when I go to Kuala Lumpur (where the Rock Corner branches still have a good selection) or order from online dealers.

Statistics in recent years show that CD sales are declining, of that there is no doubt. Thus many “experts” have declared that CDs are now obsolete, convinced that all music lovers are suddenly going to abandon their CD collection and start downloading and streaming music instead of buying actual discs. Well, hold on there, all you geniuses, maybe that’s not quite the case. Many music addicts still prefer buying and listening to music on compact disc. You can weigh the pros and cons of CDs versus vinyl, or even throw in downloads into the argument, but the fact remains that many people who buy and collect music still want CDs.

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So yeah, I like CDs, and I buy several hundred each year to satisfy my addiction, but I am a dying breed? I was excited about finally selling music in my shop, but frankly I wasn’t sure how much of a demand that there would be for CDs. If you listen to all those experts and doomsayers, they will tell you that digital is the future and “nobody buys CDs anymore.”

Thankfully, I discovered that’s not the case. We started selling CDs in mid-November, and for our opening stock I plucked about 500 “non-essential” CDs from my personal collection (How many do I still have? Let’s just say that didn’t make much of a dent in my collection!). Since that time the stock has continued to grow as customers have sold us more discs. We now have over 1,300 CDs in stock and the total would be higher, but a strange thing happened: we’ve already sold nearly 400 of the darn things! No market for CDs in this digital age? I beg to differ. Needless to say, I’m happy with the CD sales thus far, and judging from the feedback we’ve gotten, many diehard music lovers are very happy and excited to have another place in Bangkok to buy CDs.

Meanwhile, here are the CDs that I’ve been playing a lot at home and at work recently, reading to close out this year with a sonic bang!

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Les Ambassadeurs du Hotel de Bamako

Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum/Back on the Street Again

The Idle Race – Back to the Story

Ryley Walker – Primrose Green

Wet Willie – Manorisms/Which One’s Willie?

 

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Various Artists – Detroit Funk Vaults: Funk and Soul From Dave Hamilton 1968-79

Leon Ware – Moon Ride

Shawn Colvin – Uncovered

Game Theory – Real Nighttime (30th Anniversary Edition)

Various Artists – Loose Funk: Rare Soul from Sound Stage 7 Records

 

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Various Artists – Haiti Direct

Frankie Lee – American Dreamer

Continental Drifters – Drifted: In the Beginning &  Beyond

Neil Diamond – The Bang Years 1966-1968

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Travelling Kind

 

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Hot Tuna – Burgers

Various Artists – Super Funk 3

Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe

 

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Passion Pit – Kindred

Red Garland Quintet – Soul Junction

Icehouse – Man of Colours

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Stranger in Town

Bob Welch – French Kiss

 

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Squeeze – Cradle to the Grave

Goldberg – Misty Flats

Various Artists – Step Inside My Soul

Catherine Howe – What a Beautiful Place

Jefferson Starship – Red Octopus

 

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Funk Inc. – Hangin’ Out/Superfunk

The 9th Creation – Bubble Gum

Marlena Shaw – The Spice of Life

Various Artists – Los Angeles Soul: Kent-Modern’s Legacy 1962-71

Johnny Hammond – Gears/Forever Taurus

 

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Various Artists – In Perfect Harmony: Sweet Soul Groups 1968-77

Tame Impala – Lonerism

Roy Wood – The Wizzard

Various Artists – Howie B: Another Late Night

Todd Rundgren & Emil Nikolaisen– Runddans

 

Children Love Books!

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This month marks the 11th Anniversary of Dasa Books, my bookshop in Bangkok. Time flies by, indeed! Seems like only a few months ago that I was scrambling to find enough books to fill the shelves, and now we have over 17,000 books in stock, covering three floors of store space. And if we had the option, we could certainly expand to another floor; the books never stop.

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And that’s a good thing; people are always coming in to sell or exchange books, so there is a healthy amount of interesting new titles being stocked every day. And the other good thing is that people are still reading books — and importantly from my perspective, they are still buying books. Despite all the doom and gloom about bookshops closing and customers “converting” to some sort of e-reader, I see tons of people still opting for real books. Thankfully, my business continues to grow each year, which gives me more confidence to keep stocking the shelves with more titles. In my mind, there is no such thing as “too many books.” Never enough is more like it!

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I’ve learned a lot of about books over the past eleven years, particularly in areas that I didn’t know much about previously, such as children’s books. One of the most gratifying aspects of running a bookshop is seeing the new generation of kids enjoying books. You’ve got to love the parents that take the time to pass the love of reading on to their children. It’s so cool to see kids who get excited when they come to my shop and pick out books they want to read. There’s one little boy named Astor, who is six years old, but he’s already a veteran book buyer. He and his father David come in at least once a month and pick out a bunch of books to read. I listen to Astor as he reads out loud, and David will help explain any difficult words. Right now Astor is going through a dinosaur phase. It will be fun to see what strikes his fancy next year … or ten years from now. From what I’ve seen, once a child has developed a reading habit, it’s not something they stop.

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So cheers to all the book-loving children and their supportive parents. Long may you read!

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Bookselling in Bangkok

This month marks the tenth anniversary of my bookshop in Bangkok. We were in the midst of an anniversary sale earlier this week when the Thai Army declared martial law. Two days after that they officially ousted the caretaker government in yet another military coup (the previous one occurred in 2006). Here we go again. Whatever you want to say about living in Thailand, it’s certainly never dull!

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It seems like only a few short months ago that I was worrying about how I was going to obtain enough books to stock the shelves of the bookshop that I planned to open in Bangkok. Ten years already? Damn, the time truly has flown by. Back in early 2004 I was still running a small secondhand bookshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It had been open for about two years, but I was missing Bangkok, plus getting the itch to open a bigger and better bookshop. So I did it.

Anyone who has ever operated a retail business knows about the ups and downs involved. I’ve worked, managed, or owned a variety of retail business for 35 years, so I’m quite accustomed to the myriad challenges, but running a business in Thailand has its owns distinct quirks. For one thing, if I was going to adhere to the business laws for foreign residents in Thailand, not only did I need to apply for a work permit and get the proper non-immigrant visa, I also needed a Thai business partner. Luckily, there was one trusty Thai man I knew (we had worked together at Tower Records in Bangkok in the late 1990s) who had both the desire and the financial means to go into business with a knucklehead like me.

After three frenzied months of planning and activity (finding a building to rent, finding a large quantity of books, finding contractors to renovate the building, finding sources for coffee beans and cakes and other items) we opened Dasa Books on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. We had less than 7,000 books when we first opened, but today the stock hovers between 16,000 and 17,000 books, occupying three floors of retail space.

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You hear a lot these days about bookshops losing business or even closing down. People are either reading less — or at least that’s the perception if you listen to the “experts” — or they have “converted” to e-books and e-readers, forsaking the paper tome altogether. Well, from my perspective I’m not seeing that at all. Maybe the fact that we primarily sell secondhand books has given us some immunity against the e-reading trend, or the fact that expats in this part of the world tend to be readers instead of TV zombies, but our business has been increasing, not decreasing, over the past decade. Hey, knock on wood, I’ll take it, and hope that trend continues!

One other trend I’ve noticed in recent years is the new breed of younger customers and they way that they shop for books. Unlike older customers who will often bring with them a list of books that they are looking to buy, the new breed of customers consults their smart phone instead. The odd thing with most of these younger folks, however, is that they seemingly have no idea how to find a book on the shelves once they are inside the shop. They can quickly surf online, or click away effortlessly on their phone, but put them in a shop with real books and they appear stumped as to how to find anything. And it’s not like things are that hard to find in my shop. We keep the shop very well organized: all books are filed in alphabetical order by author and divided into specific categories. And yet many people just can’t figure it out. No wonder they are more comfortable shopping online!

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A more annoying trait of the younger generation is their obliviousness and sense of entitlement. We literally have a handful of seats in my bookshop, and yet some insufferable people will occupy a single table for hours on end, tapping away on their laptop or playing with their phone (I call them: “iMasturbators”), or chatting with friends, all while nursing a single drink. In my mind, these people are more pests than customers. There are days when I wish I could spray them with some magical solution and watch them vaporize. Good riddance!

Thankfully, the pests are in the minority and the vast majority of our customers are really cool, book-loving types. Take, for example, the first five customers who came to my shop this morning, all of whom are regulars. One is a retired Thai man who reads mostly non-fiction titles, between four and five fairly thick books every week. I’m continuously amazed at the variety, and volume, of books that this guy reads. The second man in the store today is Belgian and has lived in Thailand for several decades. He buys books in English, German, French, and Dutch. Not surprisingly, he has also done several book translations for a local publisher. Customer number three this morning was another retired man, Burmese by birth, schooled in the USA, and a resident of Thailand for 30 years. He’s big on historical fiction and loves to joke with me about politics, the dysfunctional Thai or American brands. The fourth customer in the store was a talkative Australian (is there any other kind?) who buys a lot of classic and contemporary fiction. Number five this morning was a British woman who buys mostly crime fiction and mysteries. Those first five customers were followed by a Chinese mother and her four children, all of them picking out books in English to read. Later in the morning a Buddhist monk stopped by to pick up a book on home improvement!

And that’s just a snapshot of a typical hour at the bookshop. I love this business and the rainbow of customers who come to shop for books. Sign me up for another colorful and interesting ten years!

Booming Book Business

These are rocky times in the book business. You read the alarming news reports every month: retail stores are closing in waves, people are reading less, and the few remaining readers — the ones who aren’t downloading porn or super-sizing it at the Golden Arches — are either buying their books online or switching to e-devices to feed their habit. And in this digitized modern world, people have more entertainment options than ever to take up what little free time they have. Between the Internet, DVDs, and other media distractions, people just don’t seem all that interested in reading as much as they used to do.

 

I own a secondhand bookshop, Dasa Books, in Bangkok, one that has been in business for seven years. At this point I’d like to think I know what I’m doing and am pretty good with this book stuff. This past December we had our best sales month ever. Then along came January 2011 and that was even better. Wow! So far, February has also been quite busy. How busy? I did a quick calculation of sales for the first two weeks of the month, and wango bango, we’ve done it again: the daily average thus far this month is, once again, our best ever. But I know the highs won’t last much longer. We’re still in the midst of “High Season” here in Thailand, and have lots of tourists to supplement our regular stable of customers. Plus, the annual Lunar (Chinese) New Year flow of visitors this month has also helped boast sales. It’s supposed to be a good time of year for business, but should it be this good?

 

Clearly, at least from my perspective here in Bangkok, people are still reading —and more importantly, buying — books. But my bookshop appears to be defying a worldwide trend, and thriving instead of dying. So what’s going on? I’d love to think that I possess some sort of magic touch, am a marketing genius, and have the uncanny ability to anticipate what customers want to buy. But no, that’s not it. I do make it a point to keep my shop well-stocked with a wide variety of titles in various genres, strive to create a comfortable shopping environment (we serve coffee and tea, and have tables and chairs for customers to sit and relax, and of course play great music), try to keep the shelves organized properly (apparently putting your books in alphabetical order is a rarely practiced concept here in Asia), keep our prices competitive (not dirt cheap but not expensive either), and offer a half-price back return policy on the secondhand books we sell. But the bottom line, I think, is that there are still many diehard readers who want to read real books. If you offer than a good selection of books at fair prices, they will come.

 

But over the mountains and across the sea, retailers in America are singing the blues: business sucks and many stores are going out of business or filing for bankruptcy. The impact of those shiny new electronic readers — Amazon’s Kindle, the Nook from Barnes & Noble, and the new iPad — is cited as one reason for declining sales and the closing of so many retail stores. Of course more people are buying these devices and downloading new titles instead of going to a brick and mortar retail store to buy them. But looking at it from another perspective, are these devices really taking that much of a chunk away from retail book sales? Quite possibly these convenient new devices might inspire more of the masses to pick up the regular reading habit, and in turn some of these neophyte readers might even get curious and buy a few real books with real pages to turn. Who is say you can’t have the best of both worlds?

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