Life under the circuit breaker: Lessons from Epigram Books’ Edmund Wee

“I suspect we’ll all manage somehow. Isn’t that what business is all about?” said an optimistic Mr Wee in an interview with TISG




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Singapore —At The Independent Singapore, we are doing a series of interviews about how the current ‘,’ (the restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19) affects people from all over the country, from business owners to property agents to home cooks to sales staff. We want to know how these restrictions have affected their lives, work, relationships, and what they see for the future.

Today we hear from , the publisher and CEO of , giver of the much-vaunted Epigram Books Fiction Prize, one of the country’s most prestigious literary awards. Mr Wee discusses the challenges facing businesses in the age of the coronavirus, specifically facing publishing companies, whose sales have taken a hard hit due to the closure, albeit temporary, of bazaars and brick-and-mortar shops.

Epigram is still taking online orders, however, and those in need of a good read can head over here.  We just want to say that their online ordering system seems to be working well, based on a charming post from a netizen named Lionel Chua, where he thanked Epigram Books for their outstanding customer service. Not only did the company communicate as to when his order was arriving but Mr Chua wrote that he “was pleasantly surprised to see the boss of Epigram personally delivering” his order.

Perhaps this is what Mr Wee meant when he told us, “So we just have to work harder,” and “I suspect we’ll all manage somehow.”

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“I suspect we’ll all manage somehow. Isn’t that what business is all about?”

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

TISG: Tell me a bit more about your business and how things have changed due to the Circuit Breaker, and later on, even tighter measures.

I’m basically a book publisher. A big part of publishing is selling our books. With the lockdown, we now have zero sales from the bookshops and the bazaars. The only sales are from our online store.

Another important aspect of publishing is the social interaction between the publisher, editors, authors, designers, marketeers, and public. With the lockdown, this aspect of publishing cannot continue. Although there are attempts at doing some of these activities online, the impact or effectiveness is limited.

TISG: What are the two greatest challenges you have faced during this period?

There would have been no big problems if the lockdown were to end in May. Our publishing program is prepared over a year in advance, and therefore one month delay can easily be caught up with. But with the lockdown extended to June, we may have some problems.

So we’ve cut eight titles from our programme for the second half of 2020. Instead of releasing 27-28 titles, we will most likely release 20 or even fewer new titles.

TISG: When the Circuit Breaker eventually ends, do you see things picking up? If not, what comes next?

I hope so, but even if it does, it’s unlikely to make up for the loss during the lockdown. So we just have to work harder.

TISG: How do you think your staff are coping?

As far as I know, they’re ok. Some are parents with school-aged children and that’s the added stress for them. But overall, I don’t hear any complaints.

TISG: What would you say to fellow Singaporean business owners out there?

I’m afraid I do not have any words of wisdom for my compatriots except to commiserate with them. But I suspect we’ll all manage somehow. Isn’t that what business is all about? —/TISG

Read also:  Life under the circuit breaker: Lessons from Prospect Logistics, winner of Enterprise Singapore’s Top 100 SME Award 2018


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