How a 24-year-old entrepreneur from Delhi is luring broke bibliophiles with her startup Book Thela
Book Thela is one of India's largest second-hand bookstores on the web, and it sells thousands of pre-owned books to readers all over India. The platform claims to have over 90,000 registered users.
Are you a compulsive book buyer and someone who splurges on books regularly? Or someone who trawls the internet and/or traverses the narrow bylanes of your city to hunt down the best book deals (or steals as they are called)? Then, Book Thela is for you and your ilk.
This Gurgaon-based startup houses one of the largest collections of pre-owned books online, and home delivers them at throwaway prices to buyers from all over India. While pre-owned (or second-hand) books may not enthuse every reader, Book Thela ensures, through its strict vetting process, that it stocks only copies in near-new condition.
It’s been two years since Book Thela launched out of a Delhi garage. It is the handiwork of Riticka Srivastav, a 24-year-old first-time entrepreneur, who married her passion for books with her inclination towards business to start up in early 2017. It was her author-father, in fact, who lent her the idea of selling second-hand books online.
Riticka tells YourStory,
“He knew I was into books and also wanted to do something on my own after college. During my rounds of multiple bookshops in Delhi, I realised that second-hand books comprised a very unorganised market, but had a lot of potential. So, I decided to do something in this area.”
Building the library
Armed with an initial capital of Rs 2 lakh (family finances), she went about buying 150 kg of books – her first stock – from Old Delhi’s second-hand book vendors.
“Initially, it was hard to find vendors who sold books that were in a good condition. But, we expanded our sourcing to Mumbai and Kolkata (which houses one of the largest second-hand book markets in India),” Riticka reveals, adding that “there is a huge demand for Harry Potter, Sidney Sheldon and Jeffrey Archer books, but we maintain a mix of fiction and non-fiction”.
In two years, Book Thela claims to have notched up over 90,000 registered users on its platform. It sells 70-80 books per day, and over 50 percent are return buyers. Deliveries are free for orders above Rs 299.
Categories have grown from fiction and non-fiction to children’s books, comics, and academic books (which is witnessing high demand from cash-strapped college students). It has also started selling French and German titles, and plans to add more languages - Indian and international - to the library.
The startup’s vendor network has also expanded to 10 cities, and deliveries reach tens of thousands of pin codes across the country.
Says the founder,
“We have logistics tie-ups with Fedex, Aramex, and Holisol who deliver everywhere in India, from J&K to Pondicherry.”
Without revealing numbers, she says that Book Thela revenues have grown five-fold in two years. The startup claims to have achieved break-even in the first month itself. So, funding is not imminent. “Not before 2020, at least,” Riticka says.
Peers and market landscape
Of course, Book Thela is not the only player in the largely unorganised used books market in India. There is Amazon.in, which lists second-hand books under its Local Finds section. Plus, there are homegrown platforms such as BookChor, BookMandee, Second Hand Books India, AbeRuk (which specialises in college and exam books), and hundreds of physical bookshops selling second-hand books across cities and towns.
But, Riticka asserts that Book Thela stands out - at least, online - because of the price advantages it offers. She notes,
“Our starting price is Rs 49 [books listed under the 49 Club section]. You can get fiction books at Rs 79-89. We are at least 20-30 percent cheaper than all competition, including Amazon,”
Even though ecommerce makes even new books available at heavily discounted prices, the demand for second-hand books is growing at about 20 percent annually, according to industry estimates. The fact that these books are available at costs 50-60 percent lower than the retail price makes them all the more appealing, especially among the youth.
Add to that, books are the third-largest category (after electronics and apparel) in domestic ecommerce. Overall, India’s books market is estimated to reach $11 billion by 2020, up from $4 billion in 2015, according to Nielsen.
“There are lots of untapped markets still, especially in Tier II and III cities,” Riticka says. “Our primary buyers are from metros and mostly in the 18-25 age group. But, we plan to have a greater variety of books that can appeal to the older demographic as well,” she adds.
Book Thela also plans to grow its inventory “10-fold by 2020”, and move to a larger warehouse to streamline orders. An app launch is also due. “The mobile app will make orders and payments simpler and the overall customer experience better,” the founder says. “But, there’s no launch date yet.”
The startup has managed to overcome its initial challenges around sourcing and trust-building. By its own admission, finding used books without a torn or missing page was not easy. Also, building trust among conventional book vendors took time. Riticka explains,
“I was a bit hesitant initially. Some vendors thought that it was my hobby and I wasn’t a serious enough entrepreneur. But, vendor associations have grown stronger over time.”
Customer feedback, on the other hand, was never a problem. Right from the start, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, the founder states. Buyers’ increasing demands, constant queries, and good reviews have been buoyant forces in the Book Thela journey.
So, if you’re a broke bibliophile in India, what are you waiting for?