Among the many projects I have undertook during my life, this was one quirky yet effective one. So much so, that it got featured in the leading english newspaper in Saudi Arabia. Read on what the writer,, had to say about my little escapade!
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Almost nonexistent stores for old books and very few avenues to sell and buy used books leave book lovers in the Kingdom unsatiated.
Qurratulain Sikander, a thirty something mother of three ‘book-crazy girls’, started a Facebook group called ‘Jeddah Bucket of Used Books’ to sell her collection of books.
“The group was created to sell off my old books. I come from Pakistan, where used bookstores are a commonality. Failing to find such an avenue here, I started this group so that the earned funds could be utilized to buy new books.”
What Sikander is referring to is perhaps the countless secondhand bookshops called “Old Books Store” in her hometown, where old and new books are sold at dirt-cheap prices, because people are “always reading and reselling.”
Secondhand bookshops are ubiquitous in many parts of the world. They not only satiate a book lover’s appetite for the knowledge bought off the pavement at affordable prices, but also give him an opportunity to sell off his old, unwanted books.
Central London’s famous Southbank Book Market, is another example of a place where one can browse for hours and find rare, old, hardback editions of classics, at a fraction of the original prices. Mumbai’s many secondhand bookshops sell everything from Dickensian literature to contemporary fiction and foreign fashion magazines.
Dar Abul Qasim, a bookstore in Jeddah, is the only one, barring a few obscure places such as bookstore Konz Al-Marfa (Diamond of Knowledge), that sells a limited collection of old magazines and books.
“We added a discounted shelf to our shop six years ago. Many customers appreciate the low prices and therefore don’t mind if there’s a small rip in a page or a cover with bent corners. As far as I know, we’re the only shop where you can purchase back issues of Al-Jumuah Magazine,” said Amatullah J. Bantley, owner of Dar Abul Qasim.
“Businesswise, it makes perfect sense to sell the less-than-perfect items. First, it brings in bargain shoppers, i.e. new customers who’ll likely come back again and again. And second, instead of a 100 percent loss on misprints or damaged merchandise that would otherwise be thrown out, we at least get some compensation for them,” she said.
Sikander says the response from buyers to her Facebook group has been “surprisingly amazing,” especially toward children’s books. “Due to the low prices and large variety, I was able to sell off the collection of books very quickly. Most customers picked up a minimum of 10 books. Overall I was able to sell almost 70 percent of my collection.”
Popular classifieds website, expatriates.com lists tens of ads from people everyday, mostly in Jeddah, Riyadh and Alkhobar, who want to sell off their books, including those for children, and of course textbooks, etc.
Occasionally held charity sales also include exhibitions of used books. A secondhand book exhibition organized last year in Jeddah grabbed the attention of many Jeddawis who found many valuable books at an average of SR10. The book exhibition was organized by Mawakib Al-Ajr Society.
“The absence of libraries and bookstores can be vividly felt, unlike in other countries. Stationary stores try to pull off the title of a bookstore, but don’t really do a great job at it,” Sikander said. Contrary to popular belief, reading is not a dying habit among many Saudi youth and an increasing number of Saudis are prolific readers. The literacy rate in Saudi Arabia is 85 percent and the Kingdom occupies 116th Literacy Rate Rank among 194 countries.
A survey conducted by Professor Reima Al-Jarf, among female students at King Saud University in Riyadh, revealed that 77 percent of students read women’s magazines, 77 percent read makeup and fashion sections, 66 percent read articles about arts, 24 percent read poetry, 20 percent read short stories, 20 percent read articles about public health and 4 percent read articles on religious issues.
Although many may not be reading books as much due to the popularity of the Internet, books still have their lovers.