BookMeABook.com is an online library catering to over 900 members spread across the National Capital Region. Spearheaded by Nidhi Verma, whose family has been running the well-known Ram Gopal Sharma and Sons library in Connaught Place, BookMeABook came into existence in October 2007 and has an active team of about 12 members who work to make sure that their readers are a happy lot. How the library works is wonderfully simple: you choose your membership plan based on the number of books you want to read per month, you select the books you want to read from the online catalogue and queue them up, they get delivered to your house as per availability and picked up as per your convenience. Here we speak with Nidhi about the library, the readers, plans for future growth and her thoughts on reading.
VP: What motivated you to take the library online?
NV: We have an existing lending library in Connaught Place (CP), which enjoys a huge fan following among the old residents of Central Delhi. As residential areas around Connaught Place reduced, we were faced with a reduction in our readership numbers. Several of regular readers moved out of Central Delhi to suburbs such as Noida, Gurgaon, Faridabad and Ghaziabad. Their common concern was a lack of circulating libraries in their vicinity. We originally conceived of BookMeABook as a means of getting books to our original readers. As we began thrashing out the idea, BookMeABook acquired an identity of its own, and became much bigger than we had originally thought for it. We then decided to launch it in its present avatar.
VP: How have people responded to the online library? Has this significantly increased the reach of books to your reading audience?
NV: We have received an overwhelming response from people about our concept. They have liked the idea, and we have received encouragement from all quarters. In terms of reach, yes we have many satisfied readers.
VP: Could you share some details about your readers? How do you reach out to new readers?
NV: I must say that our reader base is very eclectic in age, educational background and location and spans working people, students, Stay At Home Mothers (SAHMs). We have a lot of people from the IT industry as well. Our focus is on reaching out to people through word-of-mouth and personal referrals. We have a referral scheme in place, where for each successfully converted referral, we reward the referrer with a month’s free subscription. One of our regular readers has been availing this free subscription for seven continuous months now. A lot of our new readers also come to us because they were told by a friend or a relative. We also distribute pamphlets and bookmarks at our shop in CP.
VP: What are the challenges that you face in running an online library?
NV: Though there is a wide acceptance of the Internet and of our online library model, there is still a reluctance of paying online through credit cards. Our members gradually do start paying online, but there is a definite doubt first time around. In this respect we have noticed that more Internet-savvy people and those in the IT industry are open to the idea of online payment. Several people also tend to opt for payment via cheques.
VP: Could you share with us some details about Corporate Libraries?
NV: What we offer for companies is a tie-up with the library, which can work in two ways. One is that the companies give us a list of books they want – normally in the range of 50-60 – and we provide them with these books for a period of one to two months. The other option is that the companies sponsor the memberships for its employees and we treat them as our regular customers. This is a nascent area for us and we are looking at increased tie-ups with companies.
VP: Would you consider replicating your model in other cities? Do you have plans for this?
NV: We do have plans of replicating it to other cities, but currently we are sticking to NCR. We think there is huge potential in our current space – NCR-for growth. We would like to establish ourselves firmly in this area before we replicate the model in other cities. The idea is not to dilute our brand by unplanned growth.
VP: Do you think e-books represent the next step for readers? Would your online library consider a model where they provide e-books rather than delivering them?
NV: No, e-books do have a market but not in those people who still like to curl up in a cane chair with a good old book. We cater to that section of people; who love the feel, the smell and the look of the ‘real’ book. We are basically a lending library and do not plan to dilute that part of our identity. E-books are not in our scheme of things right now.
VP: Any thoughts on ‘reading’ that you would like to share with our readers?
NV: Reading is a hobby that gives you both knowledge and pleasure. Apart from the unique joy and satisfaction from reading which only book lovers can explain, reading is something which stands you in a good stead. It widens one’s scope of thinking. In today’s age, where people are bombarded with information from several forms of electronic media, one tends to belittle the importance of reading. But reading is a hobby one must try to cultivate, especially in children. I really feel there is an entire generation that has lost out to the wonders of reading, and it is really important that we re-introduce reading as a pass-time for children.
Compiled by Shruti Saxena