Singapore online bookstore eyes Asia's Amazon tag

NoQ Store aims to bring better value, ease and speed to bookworms in region, as well as beef up data repository of Asia-specific content for customers, says exec.

SINGAPORE--There is not yet an Asian online bookstore that's equivalent to U.S. e-retail giant Amazon, and with online shopping on the rise, there is a space for a player to bring better value to customers and be a giant e-bookstore. Newly-launched NoQ Store, owned by homegrown Times Publishing Group, aims to be just that, says a company executive.

Most people, when asked about an online bookstore, would think of Amazon, but it is still U.S.-based, said Karen Ang, NoQ Store's general manager.

There is a niche for NoQ in this region, she told ZDNet Asia at the sidelines of a media briefing Wednesday to publicize the store's launch.

After a six-month beta, NoQ officially opened to the public on Aug. 1. Owned by the Times Publishing Group, it is based in Singapore, but ships globally.

Conceptualized about a year ago, NoQ essentially serves as the online channel of Times' multi-delivery strategy to reach its customers, Ang explained.

Going online is "just keeping up with the times", she said, noting that online shopping has picked up significantly in the last couple of years with changing lifestyle habits and more Web-savvy consumers.

That is why she argued that it is timely rather than late entry for NoQ to launch now, despite the presence of other players in the competitive e-commerce space such as Amazon, which today stocks everything from books to electronic gadgets.

"It's about timing," said Ang. "Consumers weren't as Internet-savvy or buying as much as they do now."

Familiarity with books business an edge
Ang added that when it comes to selling books, the company is well-positioned and supported for its foray into the online world.

"[Times] knows books best," she said. Besides its Times retail bookshops, which have been operating for about three decades, Times Publishing Group also runs its own publishing, printing and distribution divisions.

Its direct link with partner suppliers and distributors around the world, including Asia, also means that warehousing and inventory will not be much of an issue, Ang noted. "So long as you select the book, we [will] bring it in for you."

The combination of these factors enables NoQ to bring better value to customers in the Asia-Pacific region--from the ease of online shopping, to cheaper prices that are passed to the customers due to direct imports, and faster delivery times, she added.

E-book scene in Asia "hazy"
NoQ stocks books across 37 categories, but currently only sells physical books. On whether the store will eventually sell e-books, Ang said NoQ will consider doing so "when the time is right".

She acknowledged that e-books are already prevalent in the United States and United Kingdom, and the popularity of tablets and e-readers have generated buzz.

But she also pointed out that the e-book scene in Asia is "hazy" because of the issue of international publisher rights to sell e-books in this region.

So even though there is no lack of devices to access e-books in Asia, it is the content that is largely lacking, she explained.

Ang also emphasized that granted there are always early adopters to e-books, it is unlikely that physical books will be totally gone.

Asked if the recent bankruptcy of brick-and-mortar bookstore Borders indicates a less favorable future for physical books given the growing dominance of e-tailers, Ang replied: "We can't simply say that Borders went down just because of Amazon. There are many factors at play."

People could be buying more physical books due to online shopping, she explained, adding that ultimately it boils down to market competition for a share of the consumer wallet--that is, how much money readers are spending on book purchases.

Besides its aim to be the largest online bookstore, NoQ will also be a growing platform or repository for data relating to Asian content, titles, authors, publishers and distributors, Ang added. Compared to Western titles, there is today not as much available information such as author biographies for Asian books, she said.


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