UBSM Making Books Accessible for Everyone

UBSM’s Managing Director, Keith Tong shared how they stepped up to help the affected flood victims with their apps

Keith Thong, UBSM Managing Director with his colleague (image taken before the COVID-19 pandemic)

The flood disaster that struck the nation in the past few weeks has brought so much loss to individuals, families, organisations and businesses alike. One of the news reports on losses includes millions of books destroyed on top of the large number of families trying to stand back on their feet post-disaster. Uncertainties on school re-opening made it even harder.

Here is where University BookStore (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd steps into the social media sphere and starts offering free e-textbooks through their website and mobile application for families that were affected by the mishaps. It could be a problem of damaged books, unavailability in close proximity and delayed books. Everyone could download the e-textbooks so they can study and prepare for the coming school re-opening.

In an interview with Keith Thong, the Managing Director of University Book Store Malaysia (UBSM) cum President at Malaysian Booksellers Association on this endeavour said, “Due to the recent floods, the government decided to extend the e-textbooks to be provided free to both Public and Private schools which was very commendable indeed. Xentral took an overdrive to speed up the completion of the UBSM BOOK APP (available for both Apple iOS and Android Goggle Playstore) and together we rearranged the interface to be Free e-textbook user friendly with a clear guide drop down menu and an easy free user account registration.”

UBSM was established in 1958, just a year after Merdeka that is focused to serve University Malaya (UM) and University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and later ventured into serving private schools and international colleges.

Keith said Britannica approached them 12 years back to share, train and provide a monthly allowance to learn about the digital recurring business model.

“The last two years had given us an exponential growth opportunity. Many international Edu-tech giants had sought after us to represent them in this South East Asian region,”

The idea of the application came about when UBSM were appointed by Tenby ISP, the leading international education group and took over the operations of all their campuses bookstores in the year 2020.

Having managed a hybrid of physical and online bookstores, Keith said Private schools that follow the local curriculum have their own distinct challenges as the publishers have to print a small number of commercial editions and are always insufficient for the “open commercial market”.

“I was quite concerned being the President of the Malaysian Booksellers Association (MBA) that this problem or pain point was not solved all these years. Therefore, we sought the Malaysian Publishers Association’s (MABOPA) help as well as the national e-textbook portal Xentral’s help to have e-textbooks be made available for commercial downloads and we took a lot of time and effort to start building website and app.”

Offering over 250,000 book titles from both local and international publishers with massive monetary value, Keith intends to take no credit in providing these free e-textbooks.

“We saw the pain points, identified the needs, get the book industry to support and solve this annual textbook problem. In the process, the government was very swift to lend their support and negotiated with the successful textbook publishers to provide our beloved nation with free e-textbooks. It is a national teaming effort and we only play a small role to bring good people together to serve,”

“I believe one has to serve first and if the public likes your initiatives and are blessed by your hard work and efforts, they may support you when they think of books that they may want to buy commercially later.”

“The pandemic, floods, mental health, loss of jobs and businesses have given our community enough challenges. If we can play a small role where one would not be stressed about their school’s textbooks, it would be such an awesome achievement for us and make all the months of hard work very fruitful indeed.”

“I am hoping that GLCs, corporates, foundations, alumni or NGOs can lend their support by sponsoring free books into this ebooks system and let these creative content be an economic human capital multiplier for our beloved nation Malaysia!”

The free e-books can be downloaded through USBM’s website, smartphone application (Apple and Google Playstore).

Follow UBSM on their Facebook Page for their latest update and to get in touch with Keith for any collaborations or to help contribute to his endeavour.