Flipkart, Amazon and others like them changed the way we buy books. Kindle changed the way we read books. For some, there is still nostalgia attached to walking around a bookstore and checking out titles. Or, for that matter, reading physical books and keeping them as prized possessions.

Online bookstores have made it easy to purchase books from almost anywhere, at any time, and Kindle has made it possible to store thousands of books in our shrinking homes.

However, though hard copies of books in most languages are available online, e-books are not readily available in many regional languages. To fill this void, Bangladesh-based MobioApp Ltd came up with an app called Boipoka—Bengali for bookworm.

“Boipoka is one of our flagship programmes and it is the largest book-reading application in Bengali language for Android and iOS platforms," said Abdullah-ul-Mamun, senior business development officer, MobioApp.

Launched in July 2013, the app has crossed over to India and has also reached the Bengali-speaking population across the world. “We have 35,000 active users in Bangladesh, around 5,000 in India and many more across the world," said Mamun. The response from India has been surprising and the per active user purchase is more for Indian customers than Bangladeshi customers, he said.

“Bengali is probably the third largest language spoken in the world and this will be an excellent source for Bengalis who want to read Bengali literature," said Manisha Chaudhry, editor, Pratham Books, a publishing house that publishes books in multiple languages.

The app is an online bookstore that offers many free books and where users can buy hard copies of renowned and not-so-renowned authors, apart from buying e-books, with nearly 30 categories on offer. The cost of an e-book is usually half to one-third that of a paperback edition.

The application won an mBillionth award in the entertainment category this year.

Mamun said that the selection of books available online is very limited and consists of the ones that are commercially successful. However, through Boipoka, the idea is to make even the not-so-famous ones available and since the e-book version is cheaper, users are ready to pay.

“There is a huge population of Bengali speakers who are living across the world and ordering a hard copy of any book will take time and money. With the app, we intend to reach them and keep their reading habit in their native language alive," said Asruf Ul Jubair, business development officer, MobioApp.

Chaudhry believes that the initiative will help preserve the culture of reading in regional languages and that it will also make available those books for which publishers are not going to put in money for reprints.

For the e-book format, books are first acquired from publishers and writers with a prior agreement. The content of the book is then typed out by an in-house team before being uploaded for sale. This is done to change the font size, screen-size orientation and alignment of the book without changing the content. “We do not use scanned pages because that will not allow us to provide smart features that we offer to our e-book readers," said Jubair. Smart features that come with e-books include underlining a portion, making notes and sharing on social media. The app can also read PDF files stored on the device.

Convincing authors and publishers proved to be huge challenge initially. “They were worried about piracy. We then presented them some samples to show that piracy will not happen because of our digital rights management; we also cited some case studies and presented some demonstrations to convince them," said Mamun. After the hurdle of piracy concerns was cleared, the issue of economic loss cropped up.

Amazon had a similar dispute with publisher Hachette a year ago. “Publishers said that sale of hard copies will decline, affecting the business, and we had a hard time making them understand that the overall effect on the business will be positive because more and more people will buy books once they become affordable," said Jubair. The publishers later realized that their books are now reaching remote locations where books were not available earlier and the market has become broader.

According to Chaudhry, it needs to be seen how many new publishers are ready to take the e-book route because many are still to figure out how to make it viable, adding that books which are out of copyright may be easy to get, but that will limit the potential of such an app.

Payments in Bangladesh can be done through cash, credit cards or mobile payment solutions, but in other nations, such as India, payments can only be made through credit cards. However, it may soon launch other payment modes, except cash, in India soon. The content of the app can also be seen on banglabookhouse.com, but the “buy" feature is not available, which may be introduced soon.

On the biggest change brought about by this app, Jubair said, “In an era when entertainment is moving to social media, music and movies, we have been able to put books by Humayun Ahmed and Rabindranath Tagore in more hands."

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth and Manthan awards.

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