Neighbourhood lending libraries may be vanishing but that doesn’t mean you need to fork out big bucks to read the latest best-sellers. Or trouble your conscience with pirated books from the nearest traffic signal. A couple of websites are now doing to books what Netflix and Seventymm did to movies. Now you can browse through thousands of titles, place an order and have them delivered and picked up conveniently at your doorstep. We profile three leading online libraries and find out what customers had to say.
“I’ve always loved books, and as a child I had my nose buried in a book all the time,” says Vani Mahesh, who started Easylib.com, Bangalore’s first online library in 2001. In 2000, Mahesh—till then a software programmer with IBM in San Jose—relocated to India. Inspired by websites such as www.amazon.com, she decided to combine her love for code and books. Easylib, an online lending library, was born with 100 subscribers.
Mahesh also noticed that while young customers were happy browsing and reserving books online, “older readers like holding a book in their hand before they check it out”. So she opened up a walk-in library avatar in Koramangala, Bangalore. Some of her 2,500-plus subscribers, Mahesh says, still like to drop in once in a while and walk along the aisles.
Surf and book: Mahesh’s Easylib (top) lets users borrow books online or drop in for an old-fashioned browse; Librarywala and BookMeABook function only online. Hemant Mishra / Mint
After close to seven years in the business, Mahesh says that she is still surprised by the sophistication of the Indian reader. “I cater to the voracious reader who needs a constant supply of good reads. Whatever books I bring in, from fantasy fiction to occult to literary award-winners, all are just lapped up”.
Subscribers say: Vandana Pandit, 36, a Hindustani classical vocalist and a full-time mom, likes to unwind with medical thrillers and biographies. And she loves the catalogue that Easylib has. The library has also helped introduce Pandit’s daughters to the world of reading—Pranati, 11, and Nidhi, 7, are frequent participants in the monthly book-reading session conducted by Easylib.
What Pandit loves about Easylib is that she can make suggestions on potential additions to the catalogue and often finds them on the shelves within a month.
Ashok Nair, 40, a business manager with a leading IT firm, reserves his books during the week. “When I’m back home for the weekend, I have my reading material ready,” says Nair, who adds that unlike other libraries, Easylib keeps updating its collection.
Nair, however, wishes that Easylib would add reader reviews in addition to the book descriptions online, and recommend books and authors the way Amazon does.
Librarywala, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune
It all began when a bunch of management graduates in Mumbai found management reference books too expensive to buy. Hiten Turakhia and three friends then tried circulating libraries all over the city and discovered that they were well-stocked with comics and Mills and Boons, but had very few serious reads.
So they put their business-oriented minds together and chalked out a business plan. Market research involved six months of standing outside bookstores, asking customers if they’d appreciate an online library. Most of them replied in the affirmative and so Librarywala was launched in Mumbai in August 2007, in Bangalore in January and, most recently, in Pune in September. The service kicked-off with an initial investment of Rs65 lakh and 8,000 titles each for Mumbai and Bangalore.
Subscribers say: Creative writer Chandrama Pawar spends 3 hours a day commuting to and from her office in Bangalore. She explains her recent return to voracious reading: “When I figured I was spending hours in a cab just gazing at the crazy Bangalore traffic, I realized it was a great time to get back to my favourite activity.” All she then needed was a constant supply of books. That’s when a friend recommended Librarywala. Pawar now draws up a list of reading options once a month and then has Librarywala deliver them at home or at the office.
Hemal Dedhia, a 27-year-old chartered accountant with Fullerton India Credit Co. Ltd in Mumbai, is addicted to best-sellers. Until recently, she either bought every new Jeffrey Archer and Robert Ludlum on the stands or borrowed them from friends. Now with Librarywala, Dedhia borrows two books every fortnight and can’t imagine going back to a bookstore to buy any.
The greatest challenge facing Librarywala, however, is keeping up with the growing demand. Browse through the website and don’t be surprised if most hot releases are perennially in circulation.
BookMeABook, New Delhi, NCR
After half a century of running one of the Capital’s oldest circulating libraries, going online was the next logical step for Ram Gopal Sharma and Sons. The online venture was spearheaded by Sharma’s granddaughter-in-law, Nidhi Verma. “I felt that there was a decline in readership and this was a way to encourage people to read, give them a freedom of choice and save them the trouble of commuting from the outskirts of the city all the way to the shop in Shankar Market,” Verma says.
On 16 October 2007, Verma started BookMeABook.com, and has notched up 500 subscribers in the last year in Delhi and NCR. There have been times when around 70 new members signed up in a month. The original lending library still exists, “and ironically, the number of visitors to the shop has increased after the launching of the website”, says Verma. The online library has nearly 8,000 titles and 39 categories to choose from, and is updated monthly. It also stocks multiple copies of popular books. “We have 15 copies of The White Tiger, and all of them are out. But at least our subscribers won’t have to wait long for the books”. Overwhelmed by the response, Verma intends to open a branch in Bangalore by next year.
Subscribers say: Seetha Natesh, 24, a voracious reader who works with the Oxford University Press—and is a member of two libraries she hardly visits—jumped at the opportunity to subscribe to the BookMeABook service. “They go through all the trouble and I just sit and wait for my books. I never got the time to even go across the street to the library, so this is a great alternative. And their collection is very good, too,” says Natesh.
Joining fees, deliveries
10% of the book price as reading fee for a period of two weeks and an extra 1% for every extra day. Joining fees include a Rs500 refundable deposit and a Rs250 non-refundable registration fee. Rs15 per delivery or pick-up.
Plans begin at Rs139 per month. Book deliveries and pick-ups are free and you can keep books for as long as you wish without a fine. All plans require a registration fee of Rs499 and a security deposit of Rs499.
Plans start from Rs300 onwards, with a refundable deposit of Rs500 and a one-time registration fee of Rs300. Book deliveries and pick-ups are free and you can keep the books for as long as you want.
Shruti Chakraborty contributed to this story.