There are some books you read and love and want to read again, but some books are one-read only.
As a book lover, one of the most attractive phrases you could tell me is “unlimited books”.
We’ve been fortunate in the recent years to have programmes like the Subang Jaya Book Exchange, or the KL Book Exchange (KLBE). Open to donations, you can also bring along your old books to be swapped with others in return. It’s a good deal, and an easy way for you to get more books at little to no expense.
However, programmes like these are more of an “oflline” project—you usually have to head to predetermined location with set times to do the exchanging.
The founder of KLBE, Gladys Wong, has been running the exchange programme since 2014. This year, she decided to take things up a notch and open up access to book swapping for all Malaysians by starting an online platform.
Thus, oneforone came into being.
How oneforone works is simple.
The exchange itself is free; all you have to pay for is postage.
Oneforone is still in its beta phase, but there are already about 300 books uploaded on it, many from Gladys’ personal collection.
KLBE and now oneforone are mostly run solo, though she does get some help from volunteers and friends. She started KLBE after visiting a recycling centre in 2013. There, she saw a pile of discarded books which were still in good condition.
As a book lover, she couldn’t stay still.
“Rather than allowing the books to be recycled, I thought it would be a good idea to rent them out to the public, and starting from there, I carried out an online book rental service, ‘Four Letr Word’ but failed to solicit any response due to lack of publicity,” she told Malay Mail in a previous interview.
She didn’t want to give up, so she started the weekly KLBE programme.
“KLBE is a passion of mine, with a belief that someday it can self-sustain.”
Gladys told us that she started off with just a table of books—but she had to get a lorry to move the books when I relocated last year.
Her original goal was to reduce books taken to recycling, and the belief that more knowledge can change the way we think to create a better society.
But along the way, she realised that KLBE and now oneforone, can benefit a lot of people.
With a setup cost of RM16k, with additional costs for storage and other miscellaneous expenses, Gladys was understandably hesitant to even get things off the ground at first.
“I’ve been keeping the idea of oneforone for quite some time since it costs a lot to fail. Only mid this year, I finally decided to risk it because I’ll definitely regret later on if I don’t do it.”
Before building oneforone, she tried other methods to monetise KLBE to enable it to sustain itself.
She tried to sell books via KLBE, but that didn’t do too well, especially since she was encouraging people to exchange books in the first place. The sales did help cover about 20% of the cost, but the rest of the funding had to come from her.
“It will be good if public can see the vision we see and believe in what we believe in. It will be great if we can build this and make it a platform by the public for the public. And from the very beginning, KLBE had vowed to fully channel the money from books sales to charity organisations,” said Gladys.
But how else can a website like this keep running if the users don’t pay?
“The book exchange started with the idea of a free to exchange and it will be free forever. Hopefully oneforone can attract more users and we can sustain ourselves through sponsorships from bigger companys or funding or even referral fees to Amazon. Ads will be our last choice!”
Fans of KLBE can rest easy; Gladys doesn’t plan on stopping that to focus on oneforone.
She shared that she did think about what to do with the “physical” KLBE but realised that they have a different target audience. So that will be business as usual. They also do not share the same database of books—Gladys hopes that oneforone will grow to a continuous mutually beneficial swapping point for the users.
In terms of expansion, Gladys said she would like to see the platform exchanging more than books, if it’s well-received by the public.
When it comes to readership in Malaysia, she thinks we still have a long way to go.
“Even if we compare to other Asian countries, the ratio of people reading in Malaysia is much lower. Probably the perception needs to be changed; we used to believe that we only read when we are in school.”
Efforts like hers are just some of the right steps being taken to help Malaysians become a more reader-filled society, and with that, hopefully a more educated one too.
Feature Image Credit: Gladys Wong