June 28, 2019

Singapore book chain throws inaugural ‘non-book fair’


Popular: diversifying. (via WiNG, Wikicommons)

Popular Holdings, an established Singaporean book retailer more commonly known as Popular, has announced a one-off 95th birthday fair, the Popular Show—which will only feature gadgets, “titbits,” stationery, and lifestyle products.

As Lee Qing Ping in the The Straits Times reports, the show starts today and will run for 10 days in the Marina Bay Sands area of the city-state. It is a new addition to the Popular events programme, which includes the well-regarded BookFest, a now-annual tradition which began back in 2006 and has since expanded to include [email protected] and [email protected] Kong. Singapore’s 2019 BookFest is mooted to take place later in the year.

Mr Chou Cheng Ngok, the group chief executive of Popular Holdings, explained the decision not to stock books at the Popular Show:

“It’s the first time we are putting up a large-scale no-book event because, in time to come, the bookstore business will probably be relying on 20 per cent books and 80 per cent non-book products.”

It marks a pivotal shift for the company, which closed a store in Thomson Plaza on Sunday after 31 years of trading in the area. Again speaking with The Straits Times, Mr Chou suggested last year that the decline in bookstores does not indicate a drop-off of in popularity for paper books; it is simply too costly to keep a physical store open:

“The future of books is not that the print media is dying and multimedia is coming up. The future of books is that (bookstores) can’t afford rental.”

The emergence of the Popular Show also parallels decisions by both Waterstones and Barnes & Noble in recent years to diversify their product ranges, incorporating more gifts, stationery and food and drink areas into their high street stores. They perhaps haven’t embraced those ideas as fully as Popular seem to have. But it’s often thought that the Far East sets the pace in terms of business, so it may not be too long before the venerated bookstores of the West begin to see the same potentially decisive changes.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.