The following interview was taken in 2010 by Ms. Judith Reed for the Samui Magic Magazine.
Please can you tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Paul Wotham. I am 53 going on 18 and I was born in the great city of LIverpool. My family then moved to Warrington, where my Mum and Dad still live. Education wise I have “dun riting and rithmatic”. My interests outside of work are (God’s team) Everton Footbal Club, Warrington Rugby Leage Football Club, Lancashire County Cricket, Boxing and, of course, reading.
When and why did you decide to leave England?
I decided to go backpacking about 18 years ago and could never find my way home. I was on the road for 5 years before coming to Koh Samui.
What other places did you visit on your way to Koh Samui?
My travels took me through Asia, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and the USA. I did many and various jobs to get by such as washing cars, carpet sales, warehouse work, pest control and pouring cream down a funnel for cakes and other exotic things.
What made you settle in Koh Samui rather than other places you have visited?
I settled on Koh Samui originally because it was an easy foing and quiet place, a lot different island to what we have today. I knew it had potential for growth but ist has exploded beyong anything I could have imagined. It also had a fairly big ex-pat community which has grown enormously.
How long did you live here before deciding to start a business?
I had been travelling for 5 years and I decided to do something on Koh Samui. I started the bookshop roughly three months after getting here.
What made you pick a book shop to have as a business?
I arrived in Thailand just after the Asian market crash of 1997. The cost of books was very high and I knew I could provide a better service at a cheaper price. I basially halved the price of books on the island and the prices have never changed. We started with 8 books and 500 baht and sold them from a cafe in Lamai. We have grown from the smallest bookshop to being the biggest in Koh Samui
Was it difficult to start a business as there will not have been as many “farangs” living on the island then?
When I arrived on Koh Samui there was nowhere near the amount of ex-pats living here and of course, fewer foreign owned businesses as well. It was relatively easy to start a business then. The main problem for my business at that time was getting known and getting hold of large quantities of books, but after 11 years we are quite well known and we have various sources of supplies for books.
How is the business doing?
From being the smallest bookshop on the island to being the biggest has happended over a period of 11 years and we are still growing. We are fortunate to have many loyal customers who have been with us for many years, and our customer base expands year on year. We are also, probably, the only bookshop where you can sit down and have a drink and chat with likeminded people. We have many differen languages covered and we are always looking to increase our stock. As a consequence we are always buying. This includes people bringing in just one book to people selling collections. By doing this, the shop remains fresh and in a perpetual state of change.
What plans do you have for the future?
As for the future of Island Books, we plan to keep on expanding as much as possible. In many ways, there is no limit as to the eventual size of the business. AS of next year, we plan to go online which will enable people in Koh Samui to reserve a book and for us to supply other parts of Thailand.
In conclusion I would like to mention “old Jim” who was the first real bookshop owner on Koh Samui who sadly passed away a few years ago. He was a great help to me when I started and became a great friend.