Virtual book community gets physical

On 16 July 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Chiang Rai hotelier and entrepreneur Narumon Nilmanon set up a group on Facebook to promote reading among Thai people. Together with a few friends, Narumon co-founded a community on Facebook called “Samakom Pai-ya Nang-sue.

“Samakom” means a club and “Pai-ya” is slang used by this generation meaning to persuade or to lure to do something. So the name of the Facebook group means to persuade someone into reading bookswhether general novels or specific titles.

In two years, the group has grown dramatically, going from a handful of members to more than 115,000, many of them very active online.

“I never thought this group would become a big community like this. We just wanted to be a driving force in the book industry because we want more people to read. Personally, I love reading and I’d like this community to be a place where people who read books can meet and recommend their favourite titles to others,” Narumon told Thai PBS World.

Narumon at her small hotel in Chiang Rai. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

As the virtual book club grew in popularity, Narumon convinced her friends to work as administration staff for the group and today they have a good mix of reading enthusiasts covering various time zones.

“We currently have 8 people in our admin team and they hail from Singapore, Sweden and the United States,” she said.

The team helps to ensure that the group lives up to its members’ expectations. Of course, it is far from being the only book-related group though many focus on sales rather than promoting a reading culture. Samakom Pai-ya Nang-sue” prefers to stay out of the commercial aspects and instead focus on recommendations from real readers, reviews and introducing good book stores.

Initially, the group didn’t allow any commercial posts but that rule has now been relaxed and there is a daily thread to which members can post a book that they want to sell. Book-selling posts were earlier banned because it was hard for the admin team to trace or spot any scams or fraud.

We played down the bookselling aspect because there are already many groups doing sales. Our group has a different feeling because we are real readers. However, we understand that some people don’t want to keep the books once they finish reading them, so they can pass them to other members at very affordable prices.

Our community needs rules and regulations as without them, the quality would be bad. We have no time for those who post nonsense and if anyone fails to comply with the rules, we remove them from the group. We have to be very decisive in running a big group like this,” she said.

Years ago, a news headline claiming that Thais read only 8 lines a year shocked the public. Research and surveys by various organizations later showed that Thais do read more than a few lines a day. In 2015, the National StatisticalOffice (NSO) found that Thais spend an average of 66 minutes reading each day. Narumon says she and the members of Samakom Pai-ya Nang-sue read considerably more than that.

One of many bookshelves owned by Narumon. (Photo by Veena Thoopkrajae)

Today, Naruemon and her friends can proudly say they are the driving force behind the book reading culture. The group’s work is widely recognized. With active members who are genuine bookworms and book lovers, the group attracts companies that want to communicate to the group. For example, one company approached them to place an advertisement for a bookshelf.

“But so far, we haven’t got any commercial benefit from running the group. Whatever we’ve got, we return to our members. For us the best reward is feedback from group members. People have written to us expressing gratitude for the group. One person in particular suffers from depression and she shared how the group has saved her. Reading that just makes my day. It is worth more than any sum of money!”

Now almost two years old, the group is soon to meet their members face-to-face for the first time, as they has been invited by book store chain Naiin to join a book fair at the Samyan Mitrtown mall in Bangkok from 22-31 July. The group will have its own booth and it has already informed members on Facebook.

“We had a lot of (virtual) meetings to figure out and plan our booth so that it’s fun and lively not boring. We’re very excited to meet our members in person,” said Narumon.

Asked if Samakom Pai-ya Nang-sue will have more physical events in the near future, Naruemon says that she does have something in mind. “We don’t rule out any possibilities as long as the activity is in line with our intention of promoting the reading culture and strengthening our position.

By Veena Thoopkrajae

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