Wednesday 23 January 2008

Why 'New Malaysian Essays 1' will not be in most Malaysian bookstores

What a difference a day makes.

At 3pm Tuesday, I reached a verbal agreement with a large distributor in PJ to handle New Malaysian Essays 1. We agreed on the quantity, retail price, some modest promo stuff.

At 9am Wednesday, I got a call from the printer. This printer is also part of the same corporate family as the distributor. I was told that the corporation is "unable to associate itself with the book". It refuses to print or distribute it.


I was told that this is "the Datuk's orders." A hastily convened meeting the day before (which ended at 10pm) came to the conclusion that New Malaysian Essays 1 is somehow 'politically sensitive.' There's also the business of 'the vulgar words.'

I explained that while there are certainly some bits in the essays that are pointed and provocative, there's nothing that can be construed as libel, slander or sedition. Thus, there should be nothing wrong from the legal standpoint. (As for the vulgar words in my essay: I was being educational).

Ah, but these are difficult times. (The word 'elections' was used).

I should have been dismayed or upset by this act of corporate self-censorship but the main thing I experienced was panic: The launch would be in less than 4 weeks (which would include the protracted Chinese New Year holidays) and I didn't have a printer!

Phone-calls. Emails. Checking of bank balance.

Luckily, later in the afternoon, I managed to get a printer. But I still have no distributor.

Without a distributor, I would not be able to get into the main bookstores.

Well, I have since decided something.

I have decided that it's no big deal.

So what if the book doesn't get into the main shops? I will just distribute the thing myself. I am sure there will be a few independent bookstores/venues that will stock it. For sure it will not be in any MPH, Times or Popular, though.

I reduced the print run to 1,000. The fact that I don't have to surrender such a large cut (55%) to this distributor also means I can now price the book at RM30.

Where exactly will it sell after the launch day? Well, there's always Kinibooks, that plucky online shop run by Malaysiakini.

After the Thaipusam holiday (which now spreads to KL, thanks to the efforts of Hindraf to push the government to think of the Hindus for a change*) I will speak to a few other retailers too. Can't promise anything at this stage but you shall be updated!

* I wonder if this sort of sentence qualifies as 'politically sensitive.' There are quite a few of them in the book. Ah well. It's not something that a certain corporation in PJ will have to worry about now.


Anonymous said...

are we that fragile?

i do admire yr spunk though
(can say or not?)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about this, Amir.

It's not unexpected since the elections are near.

Give out copies of the book to lecturers who might adopt it as a text. That way, you'll be able to reach out to a wider readership and, more importantly, young minds. Not to mention that the orders can be quite substantial.

I assume you already have an alternative printer. If you don't, I know one who is reliable.

If I can be of any help, do let me know.

Thuan Chye

Anonymous said...

Hi Amir,

Congrats on sticking to your guns, first off.

I'm absolutely with you when it comes to the distribution part. Forget the big bookstores. Do it the indie way -- you already have experience with flea markets, which proved successful. Sure, this book seems more academic than MPSTDT. But that being a given, you also know your market, and can find ways to approach them without using a distributor. And there's online sales.

Ultimately, I think the book will do well. So it's the distributors' loss. As for you, you'll just be upping Matahari's street cred. :)

All the best,

Anonymous said...

I'll buy a couple of you and see if I can become a book pusher. I have full confidence your book will do well, just through word of mouth and your friends!

Anonymous said...

I meant a couple "off" you. I think one Amir Muhammad is enough :-)

M.Y. said...

Mrs Heng of Academe Printers will, I'm sure, print your book as long as she gets her deposit. Her number is 0162280835. Can you whisper the Datuk's name in our ears, Amir? It will serve him right if his sales start dropping drastically. A very special hell is reserved for Nazi collaborators and gutless Quislings. Soldier on, you're indestructible and unstoppable! :-)

Amir Muhammad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Aiyo who the blazes is this Datuk with too much time on his hands? I'm racking my brains for the name with no vowel but I'm afraid I'm too out of touch with the local circus to come up with it.

This is ridiculous, anyway. Ridiculous but unsurprising. We just have to find ways to out-sabotage the saboteurs. Animah's offer above makes me think: can't we sell this direct-marketing style? Like Amway? If I lived in Malaysia I'd buy the book in bulk and sell it to friends, but since I know no Malaysians where I live, my efforts will be much smaller scale. I'll do what I can, nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

(That was me at 20:04.)

-- Preeta

XMOCHA said...

I agree - you can start recruiting "agents", my hand is up!

Amir Muhammad said...

I-Lann & Sharanya,
Thanks lah!

Thuan Chye,
Ah yes, the academic circuit! Never tried it before but it's probably more appropriate for this book than flea markets...

Thanks! Come to the book launch...

Ah, all will be revealed in the fullness of time, I am sure...

Amir Muhammad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


bibliobibuli said...

Good news Amir. Information from sources reveals that the company is happy to both sell and distribute the book. (There was some surprise that you thought it would not be!) It is only the printer who has pulled out, and yes, it was the dictionary that gave offense in that case.

Amir Muhammad said...

Hmm, this info has yet to be communicated to me (unlike the earlier news about the company not wanting to touch it) ...

Amir Muhammad said...

Just for the record, the last email I received from anyone in the corporation contained the following words:

"the management regrets to inform you that [we] will not be able to distribute the book."

I am surprised that anyone can be surprised that I interpreted this to mean that, erm, the corporation will not be able to distribute the book.

Unfortunately the bits about "the Datuk's orders" were communicated to me verbally over a teh tarik (which at least the company rep paid for). Must try and get these things in writing next time, much juicier.

bibliobibuli said...

will check it out further on monday.

The Plain Melayu said...

oh Mr Amir, I've just read NME 1, it is indeed a perfect example of revolutionize writings. I have to congratulate you and all the fellow writers in the NME 1 for projecting a rather critical and extraordinary ideas. My personal favorite is Terorris Bahasa.

Amir Muhammad said...

Terima kasih untuk komen anda! NME2 akan dilancarkan bulan April, Insya-Allah!