Library… at your doorstep

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In today’s age when traffic is crazy, distances untenable and time, a scarce commodity, online libraries enable book-lovers to indulge themselves from the comfort of their homes and offices. They fill the space between online retail and traditional libraries for an audience that is both environmentally and cost-conscious – in fact online libraries enable you to save around 75 percent of your spend on book buys. Here’s more on these online portals.

Are you tired of going from shop to shop and rack to rack in search of your favourite book? If yes, then there’s good news for you! With a new trend of online book rental sites, one can browse books online and get them home-delivered. Online book market in India is expected to grow at 30-35 percent annually for the next five years. With such promising facts, we feel there is much more to explore. Here, Smita Dwivedi in conversation with, Pranil Bafna (PB), CEO, www.indiareads.com; Nidhi Verma (NV) of www.bookmeabook.com; Vikash Khandelwal (VK) of www.doorstepbooks.com and Arti Jain (AJ) www.friendsofbooks.com brings an insight into these online book banks.

Relevance today!

Renting a book from a library is a habit which one develops over time. “As people get busier, it’s harder for them to take the time out to visit a brick and mortar library…that is, if there’s one even available. Online libraries fill this gap,” tells Arti.

“Online libraries provide a hassle-free reading experience, with all the positives of a library membership, offering a wide choice, enabling you to access books whenever you have time without any commuting and even provide amazing recommendations at the click of a mouse,” shares Pranil.

While Vikash adds as a matter of fact, “Why buy when you can rent. But with busy lifestyles, people do not have the time to go to a physical library to get and return the books. This is why; online libraries have become very relevant. They offer the comfort of selecting and ordering the books online, the convenience of getting them delivered and picked up from their doorsteps and the cost advantage of being very economical with various membership options.”

For Nidhi, the driving philosophy is simplicity in reading. “Worry only about which books you want to read,” she said. “A lot of our regular customers are based in satellite areas of Delhi like Noida and Gurgaon, so we thought a home delivery service would be appropriate to service them, as well as increase our client base.”

Growth and trends revealed!

As more and more people recognise and utilise the power of the World Wide Web for access, convenience and cost effectiveness, there is a huge market for online libraries. “The response that we have witnessed, particularly the surge in memberships over the last year, is a testimony to this. The biggest push has come from the smaller cities where people did not have access to affordable reading options before this. We expect a steady rise in subscriptions, especially from tier two and tier three cities, as we reach out to them via the social media & other platforms. The other thing that we have noticed is that it is not always possible for corporate to store good books and run a library efficiently, especially in multi-location set-ups. We expect to strengthen our presence in this space,” tells Pranil.

Similar views were shared by Arti, who said, “It will be a steady growth as more and more people decide to save precious time and money while continuing to enjoy their reading.” Vikash also had similar views and he added that corporates are taking special interest in this kind of service and hence their focus area.

Readers profile…

So, who are the readers for such services – are these just young professionals with busy lives? “It’s a broad cross section- from students to retired folks, working professionals, home makers, children, etc. our new membership varies from month to month. There is a surge in the summers due to vacations,” told Arti.

Similar views were shared by Pranil, who added, “Frankly, we have had a uniform spread of library memberships across different age-groups. Students, working professionals and housewives are fascinated for different reasons. Students want to save on their reading costs, while working professionals are looking for convenience and housewives for access. We have members from a varied group of professions like IT, Banking, Medicine, etc. Many children also subscribe to our library services. It is difficult to give exact numbers but we have over 15,000 active users with a growth rate of eight percent month on month.”

www.doorstepbooks.com provides service to both retail and corporate customers.

“We have customers across all age group and professions.

We have doctors, IT professionals, housewives, and retired people. On an average 50 new people take subscription every month,” told Vikash.

While, www.bookmeabook.com has a huge children books collection. Though, they have readers of all age brackets, but with more of young ones. “People with busy schedules, who are pressed for time and cannot make a trip out of their homes/offices to visit a library form the majority of our clientele. We have a strong reader base, most of whom have been members with us for a long period of time,” added Nidhi.

On genres…

So, what all genres do these online libraries cater to? Well, reader’s choice is prime for all online libraries. “If we feel a book would interest our readers, we make sure we include it in our catalogue. We ensure to add new titles frequently, and also take book suggestions from our readers,” told Nidhi.

“We have books across 45+ categories, right from political science, biographies, and technical books, to fiction, fantasy and mystery. Currently, fiction, children’s books and management books are our forte but we have an impressive collection of self-help, romance, comic and technology books as well,” told Pranil.

While Arti shared, “We carry all genres aimed at general reading. We do not stock textbooks and reference books.”

Fiction has the biggest share for these online libraries. “Approximately 40 percent of the titles are under the fiction, 20 percent management & IT, 10 percent children, 10 percent regional, and 20 percent others,” explained Vikash.

Building up the collection…

With varied interests and millions of books available, how do these libraries zero in the books for their collection? To this, Pranil shared, “The defining characteristic of a library- be it physical or online – is its collection. We, at INDIAreads, are proud to say that we are a user-driven library. We track user behaviour, follow their wish-lists and update our library collection accordingly. This creates a win-win situation for both the parties. The users get to read what they really want to read and we don’t end up piling wrong inventory. Currently, we host an inventory of over 50,000 books and our collection is growing rapidly. Stock upgradation is an on-going process and we do it on a daily basis. As I said earlier, we have an automated algorithm which tracks user-interests and makes procurement decisions for us. We add around 20,000 books every year; but with the number of members increasingly steadily, this number is bound to go up substantially this year.”

While Arti shared, “We have over 15,000 books. We update our collection from time to time, take out books that are out of circulation and add up on new ones. And this is a constant process.”

“We have around 9000+ titles. We procure books from publishers, distributors and stock in our office cum warehouse. We add new titles every week and add approx 700 titles every year,” told Vikash. Similar views were shared by Nidhi, who said, “We source books from our regular suppliers which we have been doing through our bookshop Ram Gopal Sharma and Son. We select books in terms of popularity and interest.”

What’s best about online libraries?

“The best thing about an online library is the wonderful thing we do for our library users. Besides we are book lovers – books are integral not just to our business but to our lives as well. So, coming across great titles, reading them, meeting their authors, sharing views and reviews with other book lovers is all great – it is almost as if your professional life is an extension of your personal passion,” shared Pranil.

While Vikash said, “The best thing about online library is the convenience offered at very economical term.”

Challenges…

“The main challenge for us has been logistics and providing the last-mile connectivity. The toughest part of running an outfit like INDIAreads is managing to pick-up books from all locations in the country. However, we have established stable reverse logistics now,” told Pranil.

Arti also shared similar views, “We are able to reach more people than a physical library in spite of the one working with delivery partners depending on the area.”

While, Vikash outlined four major challenges: creating awareness, spending little money on advertising; providing quick and time bound delivery service while keeping the operational cost low; ensuring minimum damage to the books; and competing with TV, mobile for time.

E-books versus real books!

So, what are the views on these online book libraries about the much-talked about topic – ebooks? All these people are not perturbed with the ebooks trend. “While e-books do not command a considerable share of the market today, their usage is set to rise with the growing penetration of smart devices in India. We are already in the process of integrating e-books into our business model. However, we will let the user choose whether they want to try an e-book or cuddle with a paper one,” said Pranil.

While Arti said, “There are enough people who still love to hold a physical book in their hands. There is also the digital divide. Not everyone can afford or knows how to read e-books yet.” Similar views were shared by Vikash, “ebook offers one more option. However the pleasure of holding and reading a physical book cannot be offered by ebook.”

While, Nidhi thinks the service has a good future… Kindle and ipad notwithstanding. “People do read, and with the inflow of so many good books being written lately, the good old reading habit is still going strong,” she added.

On future plans…

“Readers will be able to connect to their favourite authors on www.indiareads.com, very soon. Today, we host a bilingual collection and offer books in English and Hindi. We are in the process of building a collection in eight regional languages in India,” told Pranil. While, Arti at wwwfriendsofbooks.com is aiming to keep up the good service and to create more awareness about reading in general. While, Vikash shared that www.doorstepbooks.com is planning to open offices in Mumbai and Bengaluru this year. And Nidhi puts it brilliantly, “Well, our tagline says it all. Come to www.bookmeabook .com to rediscover reading.”

“Of course, reading has declined over the last few years, but services like ours will, go a long way in encouraging people to read. The prohibitive prices of books these days is often talked about, but reasonable library services can be an easy solution for people who like to read,” concluded Nidhi.

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