This week’s instalment of Source takes us to Books Actually in Singapore. The small book and magazine shop is easily spotted because of its hand-drawn façade, and it’s located in the beautiful art deco Tiong Bahru area of the city, surrounded by traditional food markets and newer boutiques. Inside you’ll find shelves overflowing with books, boxes at the back filled with old photographs and CDs, and at the front, an eclectic collection of magazines. We spoke with owner Kenny Leck about independent publishing in Singapore.
When and why did you set up Books Actually?
Books Actually started back in October 2005. At the end of this year, we will be celebrating our tenth anniversary. As somebody who loves books and reading, setting up the bookstore was a natural part of my journey. I had also worked in retail chain bookstores, like Tower Books and Borders. You could say it was meant to be.
How do you lay out the magazines around the shop and how did you decide on that set up?
Most of the magazines are displayed at the front counter where the customer transactions take place. Being a small bookstore – around 1,500 square feet – display space is always valuable. Generally, we just don’t have enough. The majority of the space is devoted to shelving and books, so the front area is where most of the magazines are displayed.
Who are your customers?
Anybody and everybody. Or at least that’s how we want it to be. It doesn’t matter if you eight years old or 80 years old, there will always be something suitable and interesting for you in our bookstore.
What’s your best-seller this month?
It would probably be the B Magazine LEGO issue. Partly because we brought a huge shipment of it, 50 copies.
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
I’m hard-pressed to name one, but I always come back to Galavant. Currently on its third issue, it is a mixture of photography, and literary pieces culled from Singapore contributors.
What has the biggest challenge been?
The real estate, or specifically the escalating rents that faces all businesses. The effect is much more profound for small businesses like ours. If we can nip this problem in the bud in the next few years, the bookstore will have a bigger chance of surviving whatever is being thrown at her.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you opened?
The push for better thinking in design and crafting of the final product. Magazines in Singapore are no longer looked at as a source of beauty tips or TV listings. They’re now consumed because of the knowledge that they provide.