Wednesday, April 20, 2022

taken from

Recently Abang read a post written by Neil Humphreys on his social media (@humphreys_neil) discussing the issue of space and rent in relation to the disappearance of physical bookstores in Singapore. He mentioned that the high costs of rentals and the declining number of readership in Singapore are to be blamed, and that we should be concerned with this trend. Abang totally agrees with the whole idea of how a physical bookstore offers a, in his words, “tactile communal experience” in which you see what in real time what other Singaporeans are reading, the ideas that they formed reading the books offered in the bookstores, and more importantly how some form of culture is being formed—like Abang used to joke how the crowd who went to MPH back then was so different from those who went to Borders or Kino. Now, we see a new culture being formed by those who patronised Popular Bookstores.  Cultures aside, Abang feels that the fall of mega bookstores in Singapore is caused by something a little more complex than just rental rates and declining readership.


Now, here is a little disclaimer. Whatever Abang is going to say in the next section is based purely on Abang’s observation and experience. You are free to agree or disagree. Regardless, please do feel free to leave a comment in the comment section, so that we can have a discourse on it.


Abang feels that the fall of the mega bookstores are actually caused by three things – Practicality, Cost-efficiency and Health, and these three causes boil down to the choice of having a digital book versus having a physical book. 


Abang had always been a fan of physical book back then—the smell of fresh pages, and the coffee stains from the accidental coffee spills when Abang was trying to turn the pages, plus... the little scribbles Abang will make in some pages to express some overwhelming thoughts or feelings that Abang would have toward either the characters or the turn of events described in the book. Abang also love to highlight some lines that Abang thought were poetic or beautiful. Then there is this thing called the tablet, that allows Abang to literally do all those things, minus the smell of fresh pages and plus money saved from buying the physical copies of the books. A physical book in a mega bookstore will always be at least $2 to $3 more expensive as compared to a digital book. That might seem like a small amount BUT, if you happen to be a voracious reader, who reads 10 books every two months, you could have saved some money and used that to buy additional digital books. And here is the best part... even if you have somehow misplaced your digital books, it is always way easier to find it through the search function. Have you tried searching a physical book in a room that looked like it has been hit by a tornado? Next question to ponder about – do you know how heavy a hardcover version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Beautiful Monster? It is definitely heavier than carrying a tablet around. Here is an added bonus – For apps such Kobo, you may share the account with your family members. This means that you may also share your collections of books across different devices that can be read by your family members and friends. You can literally pool a collection of books together, without having to worry about the books going missing or unreturned at the end of the day.


Next, let’s say if Abang really wanted to read a physical book, Abang would rather go to the library. In Singapore, the National Library Board has done a spectacular job in ensuring that there is a library in every district and constituency, even in the most hard-to-reach areas, like Punggol. Abang can literally borrow a book from almost any parts of Singapore. Here is the awesome thing – You can actually borrow the books for up to 2 months! And once you are done reading it, you wouldn’t even need to worry about having to make space for the books, you just simply return it to the library. It is very practical in Singapore to just borrow instead of buy, because of the size of new HDB houses these days. Financially, it makes sense too! Really, Abang just lost count of the amount of money Abang saved from borrowing a book as opposed to buying one. And hey, it is actually a good way to go green and save our trees!


Also, do you realise how much dust physical books tend to collect? Studies have shown that physical books can pose serious health problems and cause rapid spread of germs/ viruses/ diseases. In fact, Abang has a friend who caught HFMD, just from browsing through books in the children’s section. 


With all these in mind, there is very little to no incentive for Abang to drop by a mega bookstore anytime soon. Sorry Mr Humphreys, but Abang rather just visit the library. If Abang really needed to feel more “atas” on some days, Abang would rather go visit the library at 313 Orchard or the library at the Esplanade. That, or Abang will just grab a book via apps like Kobo.