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Parents turn to book subscription service to build their kids' libraries

Some parents do not have time to take their kids to the library or a physical bookstore, so they turn to Singapore-based online stores

Ms Chen Qin Ying's two young children own some 85 books between them, but only a handful of the titles were purchased from a physical bookstore. She has also never borrowed library books before for her two toddlers, aged three and one.

Instead, most of her children's books are purchases from online bookshops, says Ms Chen, 36.

"Online shopping for books is the way to go for busy parents like me," says the food and beverage industry operations executive.

Time-strapped parents who want to nurture a love for reading in their young children are turning to online bookstores and book subscription services to build up their kids' home libraries with good titles.

Ms Chen shops at locally-based online bookstores Owl Readers Club and Flip For Joy at least once a month, spending about $75 in total on three to four titles each time.

Owl Readers Club offers both English and Chinese books for children under seven, while Flip For Joy offers Chinese books for children aged up to six years.

She likes that the books usually arrive within a few working days, compared with weeks from overseas- based online bookstores such as Book Depository.

She also appreciates the fact that she can easily refer to reviews online to see if the titles she has shortlisted are worth buying.

"Time is precious," she says. "Buying books for my kids online is much faster than spending time searching for books at a library."

Mrs Tiffany Lim, 28, agrees.

The secondary school teacher has two toddlers aged three and one, and has been buying books for them online in the past year or so.

"It is less convenient for me to take two kids to the library. Even when we get there, I don't have the luxury of time to browse through the titles available," she says.

Parents that The Sunday Times spoke to also note that while local libraries are well-stocked with both English and Chinese books, popular titles are often not available because they are frequently on loan to others.

Another lament from parents is that the libraries' search catalogues for Chinese books can be hard to navigate, even for those who are bilingual.

This is because of the way authors' names are translated, especially for Chinese titles that are translated from another language.

To minimise frustration and time spent browsing the shelves, parents such as Mrs Lim turn to the Internet instead.

She shops at least once every two months at Once Upon A Bookstore. The locally-based online bookstore stocks a variety of Chinese books for children aged up to six years old.

Mrs Lim says: "I like their interesting range of titles. Besides books for reading, there are activity books in Chinese too."

Parents say the appeal of online bookstores also lies in their ability to offer a well-curated and wellorganised collection for children.

With a few clicks of a mouse, parents can browse titles according to book type and age suitability.

Some popular categories include award-winning titles in both languages, books with interactive elements, as well as books that focus on character-building and the teaching of good values.

Ms Lee Shumin, 33, who works as a consultant in a multinational company and has a two-year-old son, says she gets "especially excited" when children's books with interactive elements such as lift-the-flap or touch-and-feel features are in stock.

"Such titles are very attractive to young children, but hard to find in libraries. The copies that I find are often torn and tattered from frequent flipping and misuse," she says.

Owners of locally-based online bookstores and book subscription services say they are able to cater to parents' wants and needs for their children because they too encountered the same challenges.

Mrs Melissa Lee, 35, co-founded Owl Readers Club last July together with her husband and two other families.

"We wanted to make it hassle-free for parents to get good books for their children. This way, they don't even need to step out of their homes," says the mother of two children aged three and one.

A high five-figure sum was spent setting up the business, and she says she is happy with its progress so far.

The Club has about 350 member sign-ups to date and carries close to 200 titles.

One of Mrs Lee's co-founders is Ms Jiang Meiru, 35, a former junior college Chinese teacher and mother of two.

Ms Jiang is also the founder of Flip For Joy, which she started in 2011 with a high four-figure sum after discovering that local bookstores then carried a limited variety of Chinese books.

The 200 titles that she stocks come from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and, without revealing figures, she says that book sales are "healthy".

Apart from online sales, she has also supplied her books to pre-schools here and helped them to build a good Chinese library.

For parents who do not have the time to select the books they want online, there are book subscription services based here such as Josh & Cherie and Flying Books to help them.

Book subscription service Flying Books is the brainchild of Brazilian Nicole Martins, 34. The monthly, three-month and six-month plans cost from $34.50 to $216.90.

The expatriate started the business in April last year simply because she wanted to share the love of reading with other parents here.

She carries "a few hundred" English books targeted at pre-schoolers.

She says sales have been "good" and that many of her clients are Singaporeans.

"They appreciate that I bring in a wide variety of books and curate the books such that they would be suitable for the ages of their children," says the mother of two.

Parents tell The Sunday Times that while borrowing books from libraries does not cost money, they do not mind spending money buying books.

Mrs Lim says: "Some books are worth spending money on because good books are worth owning and reading again and again."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'Need books? They shop online locally'. Print Edition | Subscribe