At a time when almost everything is turning digital, including books, some start-ups are trying to bring the magic back to ‘real’ books
SAURABH HOODA, a voracious reader, has been into books ever since he can remember. However, he realised that most people bought books only to—depending on the author and story—read once and dump them into storage boxes thereafter. “I thought then, why not share them with like-minded readers and, in the process, also borrow a title or two that I haven’t read? This way, we’ll reuse the books, as well as save some money,” says the 34-year-old computer engineering graduate based in New Delhi.
But there was a problem. Hooda discovered that there was no platform that told him about readers in the vicinity—what kind of books they had and which ones they were willing to lend or wanted to borrow and, most importantly, which locality they were in. So he went on to build Lenro, a book-sharing website that connects readers locally, so that they can borrow or lend books with each other for free. Lenro started in March 2014 and has, so far, managed to attract over 5,000 users from across India.
At the moment, Lenro is leaning on an ad-based revenue model. “We would like to collaborate with authors and publishing houses to promote their books to our reader base. Lenro will always be free for the user. We are focusing on growing our user base, as more users on Lenro would mean more readers would be able to find the books they love in their immediate neighbourhoods,” says Hooda, who worked with companies such as Infosys and Sapient before starting Lenro.
For the start-up community, this might seem like just another business model, but what Hooda is doing goes well beyond that. At a time when almost everything is turning digital, including books, platforms like Lenro are attempting to bring the magic back to the printed word. We’re talking ‘real’ books here—ones which you can flip pages of and smell the print.
“When people meet to borrow, lend or exchange books, they discuss them as well. Discussing books is a magical feeling. With Lenro, we want to create those ‘magical moments’ in every neighbourhood across the globe,” explains Hooda.
Equally optimistic is Gunjan Veda of IndiaReads, who founded the Noida-based book rental platform in 2009. “The industry is changing not just in terms of the media, but also the content. It’s not just how we are reading, but what we are reading and why we are reading that’s changing as well. But this is a state of flux, when people—both readers and publishers—are experimenting. I would not say reading habits or books are dying,” says the alumna of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and University of Warwick, UK.
When IndiaReads started in 2009, it offered just two services: book rentals for individuals and book purchases. “We followed the ‘3R’ model: ‘rent, read, return’. We had monthly rental plans. People could select a plan, choose their books online and the physical copies were delivered to their homes or offices. When they finished reading, the books were picked up and the next set delivered. Gradually, over time, not only have we expanded our rental services to across the country, we have also introduced a plethora of reading and knowledge services,” explains Veda.
The idea for IndiaReads germinated when Veda, a former journalist, was working with the Planning Commission. During her interactions with students from across the country, she discovered that books, which had been such an integral part of her childhood and had shaped her dreams and ambitions, were just not accessible to a huge segment of the country’s population. “So, in 2009, I decided to quit the Planning Commission and began to discuss the idea with friends and family. In today’s day and age, was it not possible to use technology to ensure access to books for everyone, I wondered,” she says. Thus was born IndiaReads, which has over 1.8 lakh users, is available in over 550 cities at the moment and is expecting a revenue of Rs 5 crore this year.
Like IndiaReads, Mumbai-based Librarywala, too, provides book lovers the benefits of ‘collection, convenience, choice and cost’ through its services. “There was never a decline in people’s reading habits, but a lack of time to pursue them. Online libraries like ours address such pain points,” says its co-founder Hiten Turakhia.
Commenting on the new-age literary products available in the market today, Turakhia says, “The debate over print vs digital is a never-ending one. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The magic is not in the printed word, but in the stories themselves—while some help you sleep or inspire you, others may de-stress you or increase your capacity to imagine. How you read doesn’t matter as long as you read regularly, maybe at least 20 minutes a day.”
Turakhia started Librarywala in August 2007 with services in Mumbai, followed by Bengaluru and Pune a year later. Right now, it caters to the whole country, with over 10,000 members. It has over 1 lakh books in six languages to choose from. “We initiated corporate solutions in 2009 and, since then, have been providing reading solutions to several companies in the banking, media, finance and insurance sectors.
Strictly speaking of the corporate sector, Kwench, founded in 2008 by four IIM-Ahmedabad batchmates, has been providing a comprehensive employee engagement platform for companies of all sizes because it believes that “there is no alternative to quality learning and that is achieved by immersing yourself in books”. “Googling doesn’t quite cut it in the long run,” says Prashant John, one of the co-founders.
Commenting on their offerings, John explains, “Companies use Kwench’s products like the online library, the rewards and recognition platform and the health and wellness platform to better engage with their employees, channel partners and even vendor partners. All of these leverage the power of mobility, Cloud technologies and analytics to provide the HR and the company’s senior leadership with an integrated solution that can be deployed globally with minimal effort.”
As per John, Kwench has been clocking close to 100% growth year-on-year since its inception and currently serves over 400 companies globally and five lakh users across all its product lines. In India, it is available in eight cities—Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
E-books may be growing, but Priyanka Gupta, founder of Vivilio, a community of book lovers, feels readers still love to experience physical books. “The joy of holding a book and reading while sipping a coffee is unmatchable,” she says. More importantly, she adds, reading is a social habit. “Unless you talk about what you read or what you learnt from a book, the whole reading experience isn’t complete. On the other hand, authors are constantly looking to connect with readers. They don’t just want to promote books when they release it, they want to involve readers in the process of writing. This kind of connect is only possible when there is a dedicated platform for the reading audience,” explains the IIT-Kanpur alumna.
This was the premise on which Vivilio was built. Launched in April last year by Gupta and the team behind IndiaBookStore.net, a price comparison website for books that Gupta co-founded in 2012, Vivilio lets users from across India discover books through recommendations from peers and influencers. Vivilio has registered over 10,000 user sign-ups till date and growing. The revenue model for both (including IndiaBookStore) is through affiliate commission from online stores like Flipkart, Amazon and Infibeam, among others.
To encourage people to meet over a common interest, such as reading, New Delhi-based dating site TrulyMadly recently partnered with Let’s Barter India, a community for like-minded Indians to connect and barter pre-loved goods, to organise a ‘book barter social’ in the national capital. “The purpose was to curate a fun experience for our members and those of the community we partnered with,” says co-founder Sachin Bhatia, adding, “We wanted to create a ‘no-pressure’ atmosphere with an easy ice-breaker.”
Reading is a very popular activity among our users, says Bhatia. “For instance, #BookWorm is among the most popular hashtags used by members to describe themselves on the TrulyMadly app,” he says. As per Bhatia, the recent ‘book barter social’ witnessed a footfall of nearly 100 individuals, in the age group of 19-30 years, “each of whom left with a story worth recounting”, he adds.
IndiaReads: The Noida-based book rental platform has monthly rental plans. People can select a plan, choose their books online and the physical copies are delivered to them. When they finish reading, the books are picked up and the next set delivered
Available in: Over 550 cities
Users: Over 1.8 lakh
Gunjan Veda, Founder, IndiaReads: The industry is changing—not just in terms of the media, but also the content. It’s not just how we are reading, but what we are reading and why we are reading that’s changing as well. This is a state of flux, when people—both readers and publishers—are experimenting.
Librarywala: Mumbai-based Librarywala, a book rental platform, is operational in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune, and has over 1 lakh books in six languages to choose from
Available in: Across India
Users: Over 10,000
Hiten Turakhia, Co-founder, Librarywala: There was never a decline in people’s reading habits, but a lack of time to pursue them. Online libraries like ours address such pain points. The debate over print vs digital is a never-ending one. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. How you read doesn’t matter as long as you read regularly
Lenro: A book-sharing website, it connects readers locally, so that they can borrow, lend or exchange books with each other for free
Available in: Across India
Users: Over 5,000
Saurabh Hooda, Founder, Lenro: We are focusing on growing our user base, as more users on Lenro would mean more readers would be able to find the books they love in their immediate neighbourhood. When people meet
to borrow, lend or exchange books, they discuss them as well. Discussing books is a magical feeling
Vivilio: A community of book lovers, Vivilio lets users discover books through recommendations from peers and influencers
Available in: Across India
Users: Over 10,000
Priyanka Gupta, Founder, Vivilio: Unless you talk about what you read or what you learnt from a book, the whole reading experience isn’t complete. On the other hand, authors are constantly looking to connect with readers. This connect is only possible when there is a dedicated platform for the reading audience