Online book libraries - a boon for i-gen
Are you a bookworm, who’s always looking for new titles at every book shop, library or book bazaar? Or are you tired of going from shop to shop and rack to rack in search of your favourite book? If yes, than there’s a good news for you…your favourite book is just a click away! With a new trend of online book rental sites, one can browse books online and get them home-delivered. Smita Dwivedi brings more about this latest trend. In today’s internet-era, we all prefer online services for our convenience …be it bill payments, shopping or misc-bookings. With increasing internet usage in the country a new trend was bound to emerge for book world as well. The latest addition to this list is Online Book Rental services. This is gaining popularity in India, with a number of websites offering free doorstep delivery for a small monthly fee. It is estimated that India is the world's third-largest market for English books and the online book market in India is expected to grow at 30-35 percent annually in the next five years. With such promising facts, we feel there is much more to explore.
Here’s how three online libraries – Booklease.in, Bookmeabook.com and friendsofbooks.com came into being and are flourishing, quenching the thirst of readers.
Smita Dwivedi (SD): How was the idea of online library conceived?
Dr S Barman Roy (Booklease): The thoughts behind this initiative were two, first to make expensive book (original) easily available to as many as possible, secondly to save on paper and maximize usage of a book.
I am a business consultant and during my engagement/assignments with different companies I transfer skills to them and train them, however I found that employees were not well read and did not know what books (management books) should they be reading or what will help them increase their knowledge beyond what I was helping them learn. Because the books were expensive, they did not buy the books that I would recommend them. So, I started giving them my personal books (I have a small library of about 1,000 books, all personal). But I realized that they were not taking care of the books and did not value the books and as a result they got damaged. So I started charging a token amount from them and eventually tied with company for using my books for a small amount. Thus Booklease Services was formed and then www.booklease.com came into existence.
Nidhi Verma (BookMeABook): We started our services to provide free door-to-door delivery and pickup for reading comfort. Books are delivered to readers and one can read at one’s own pace – without having to worry about library fines or renewal hassles. Our driving philosophy is simplicity in reading. Worry only about which books you want to read!
Arti Jain (www.friendsofbooks.com): Manish Kumar and I (co-founders of FriendsOfBooks) both are avid readers. We lived in the US for several years where the network of public libraries and used books stores is great. When we moved to India we saw a gap in the library and used bookstore market and tried to fill it for ourselves and for people like us. FriendsOfBooks is an online book rental library, a.k.a circulating library or lending library where booklovers can rent a book online. They can choose from thousands of fiction and nonfiction books.
SD: What keeps you going?
Dr S Barman Roy: As I said, the idea was to make knowledge available at ease and that too not through pirated books. Also, I was thinking for long to do something for the environment. This was an initiative which would help us save trees as well.
Nidhi Verma: We already have two bookshops in Delhi (Connaught Place and Karol Bagh). Both the shops are in Central Delhi, in areas which have become busy business districts. 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 and thus began this service in October 2004.
Arti Jain: Our mission is to make reading an easier, enjoyable experience for book lovers. We also have a USED BOOKS store where booklovers can buy used books at great discounts.
SD: How does this online books service works on rent?
Dr S Barman Roy: People sign up (package), select the book they want, drop an email to us and we deliver the books or pick up old books.
Nidhi Verma: It’s a simple online process. Our entire catalogue is available for view online, and you can simply register and pay online, and begin to order books from home at the click of a button. Just go onto the site, www.bookmeabook.com and see our five plans, and then register. We have a minimum plan of Rs 100 and it goes up to Rs 500 as per the plan. And we have a refundable security deposit Rs 500.
Arti Jain: Members can browse books online, pick the ones they like and we send them the books. Our plans start at Rs 200 per month. We offer a variety of plans. You will find all the plans on our website under "How it Works."
SD: How are books delivered to people…how long they can keep and how do they return the books?
Dr S Barman Roy: We deliver the books at their place in NCR. However, for places outside NCR we use courier as a mode of delivery. We prefer a time period of about a month. But we really do not have a cap on the time period.
Nidhi Verma: We take the help of a local courier company to have the books delivered. Since we have a monthly subscription fee, the reader can keep books as long as they like, and we have no late fees. Books are picked up when we deliver the next set of books for the member.
Arti Jain: Books are delivered via our delivery persons as well as courier partners. Members can keep books for as long as they like as long as they pay their monthly/six monthly/annual dues. When a member is done reading the books, they simply click on a button and we send them a new set of books and pick up the old ones.
SD: What are your criteria to select a book and how do you source them?
Dr S Barman Roy: We deal primarily with management books and that too operational excellence, the reason being that we help organizations improve profits and drive excellence in their operations. I personally search for books, read them and then decide its usage.
Nidhi Verma: We source books from our regular suppliers which we have been using for our bookshop, Ram Gopal Sharma and Son. We select books in terms of popularity and interest. 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 suggestions from our readers.
Arti Jain: We buy books from distributors. Our selection is based on what’s new and what’s popular as well as classics. Our members also suggest titles to us all the time. We offer genuine books. We do not do e-books.
SD: What kind of people generally ask for this service? Are there a few regular ones as well?
Dr S Barman Roy: Primarily engineers, management trainees, managers, CEO, etc. Some of them are regular as well typically operational excellence managers are regular.
Nidhi Verma: We have readers of all age brackets. We have a lot of young readers, since we have a strong children's books collection. People with busy schedules, who are pressed for time and cannot make a trip out of their homes/offices 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.
Arti Jain: Our members are very varied. We have young office goers, elderly retired persons, people from the armed forces, school going kids and college students’ et al. A lot of our members have been with us right from the start. Many new ones join every day.
SD: In your opinion… What is the future for it?
Dr S Barman Roy: There is definitely a future, provided we take it to the next level. The next level would be a virtual platform of books where everybody will share his/her books and by exchanging/selling books, people will also be able to make some money. Booklease wants to eventually only be a mediator and help people come together to share their small library with the world and out of it. We will take care of the logistics and take a small percentage of the transaction. That’s how we want to grow.
Nidhi Verma: I think 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. Of course, reading has declined over the last few years, but services like ours will, I am sure, go a long way in encouraging people to read. The prohibitive prices of books these days is often talked about, but initiative like library services can be an easy solution for people who like to read.
Arti Jain: As our lives get busier and time is on premium, an online lending library will be more and more of a requirement. I see a great future for it.
SD: Any message you would like to give to our readers?
Dr S Barman Roy: Start reading. Share books and write books. It’s important to gain knowledge and know what people think and books are the best medium.
Nidhi Verma: Well, our tagline says it all. Come to BookMeABook to Rediscover Reading.
Arti Jain: A book is your best friend…and we are friend of books.
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