Meet four women entrepreneurs – book loving friends who decided to start Book & Borrow, an online book lending library that makes reading so much easier!
Interview by Aparna Vedapuri Singh & Anne John
Do you: Love books, but are always falling short of money to buy more? Have no more space to store the books you want to buy? Frequently complain about the lack of good lending libraries in Indian cities?
The rise of online book lending libraries is something for you to cheer about, and one such venture is the Book & Borrow online library, based in Chennai and started by four women, all friends and avid book lovers.
Anuradha Alagappan, Raji Divakar, Malvika Mehra and Rukmini Amirapu, the four member team behind Book & Borrow are all long-time friends, bound by a common interest in adventure travel, books and – a dream to start a library. We met Raji and Rukmini to chat up on their journey with Book & Borrow, and find out what it’s like to run an online library.
How did Book & Borrow come about?
Rukmini Amirapu: We have all been friends for more than 20 years now; our children went to school together, and we became friends. We were among the earliest to take women-only trips, leaving our husbands and kids behind. We all love reading, and we have had bad experiences with libraries. Inspired by the idea of the US-based movie rental company Netflix, we founded Book & Borrow in July 2009.
Raji Divakar: Our USP is that we love what we do. So along with easy accessibility to books, we don’t charge any fines and there are no due dates. We don’t sell books; we sell the concept of reading.
But is it roses all the way? Surely running a library as a business is more than sitting around and reading books all day?
Raji Divakar: Initially we were very excited, since we expected our idea to take off smoothly and become a booming business right away. But when that didn’t happen, we were slightly disappointed. Nevertheless we do have a slow and steady trickle of new members joining us every day. Growth has been largely by word of mouth. We did put in a lot of effort selling to schools and corporates, but the response tends to be slow. Some corporates even tell us clearly that they don’t want employees reading!
Rukmini Amirapu: In general, we find that selling a product is easier, whereas this is more abstract, so it is harder to sell. But we are now planning to market to large apartment complexes. We do find that a lot of middle-aged or older people read, but it is harder getting young people to read. One positive trend is that an increasing number of young moms are motivating their kids to read, but when 10th-12th boards come around, families withdraw their memberships and after that, it is very hard to get them back. Many college kids hardly read!
What do you love about it?
Rukmini Amirapu: I love my job of buying books for the library, and it is nice working with friends.
But working with friends, is it all hunky-dory? How do you handle differences?
Raji Divakar: Initially, it did take us some time to divide work, but soon, we settled in and we have our own areas depending on our strengths. Anu and I handle the day to day affairs of the library; Anu comes from a business family, and is watchful of our money, whereas the rest of us would spend a 100 when a 10 is needed! I go to our library stocking area each day and handle the requests and dispatches. Malvika is a graphic designer and she manages our site uploading and online catalogue. For decisions that need to be taken together, we meet regularly and share our thoughts. Because we have been friends so long, and doing things together, it becomes easy.
Tell us one thing about running an online library that surprised you.
Rukmini Amirapu: I always knew that people read Mills & Boon romances, but I thought people didn’t read them as avidly now! We even see a lot of our male subscribers ordering them!
Are you worried about the many online libraries coming up?
Rukmini Amirapu: We don’t view other online libraries as competition necessarily since the market is quite huge and there is space for growth. After all, our purpose is that we want more people to read.
Raji Divakar: Yes, you can get information online, but creative ideas and new ways of thinking come from books.
What is next for Book & Borrow?
Rukmini Amirapu: At present we stock English and Tamil books but soon plan to source other Indian regional language books such as Malayalam books as well as translated versions. There is such a wealth of writing in our languages, which is hardly read by people. We’ve also been persistently receiving requests for e-books from our subscribers, so we may consider stocking those as well.
*Photo credit: Book & Borrow.