JK Rowling once said, “I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” I can’t help but agree.
And for a reader, there is no greater joy than dissecting a novel. And what better way to do it than with fellow book lovers? Book clubs have existed ever since man could get his hands on literature. Be it a circle of intellectuals in Kolkata discussing Neitzsche, or bunch of college students poring over Marian Keyes novels, book clubs celebrate everything that is great with reading.
But book clubs too have evolved with the times, and what was once only possible in the physical world, is now seeing success in the virtual space too.
Bringing bibliophiles together in a virtual book community is Delhi-based Vowelor. Founded by best friends and book lovers Manik Ghawri (27), and Lalit Sharma (26), the startup lets readers connect and discuss books and authors with each other. Vowelor also provides a platform for budding authors to showcase and market their publications.
Page to platform
Manik is an engineer and a tech geek. He has previously worked as a Java developer at CSC. Lalit’s forte, on the other hand, is digital and content marketing. He has been an Associate Editor with student guidance portal Aglasem, and a content developer at career resource platform JagranJosh.
Their love for reading and forming a community around the hobby pushed Manik and Lalit to start Vowelor as a Facebook page, and a Facebook community in 2016. A year later, the two platforms combined had more than 80,000 members from across the world. Overwhelmed by with the numbers, the two of them quit their jobs and founded Vowelor Books & Media in 2017.
"The name is derived from 'Vowels', which are considered the building blocks of literature," says Manik.
Solving the problem of 'Why read alone?', Vowelor provides readers and writers with a platform to connect with each other and solve their problem of finding the next read. Vowelor has more than 90,000 readers and more than 10,000 writers in its platform currently. Most users are between ages 18 and 30 years, and 56 percent of them are women, Manik notes.
Besides the founder, the team consists of two content writers and three developers.
On the Vowelor application, readers can create a library of books that they are currently reading, have already read, and want to read in the future. Based on these libraries or lists, users get to interact with others, and discuss books with them in real time using live chat. Vowelor does this using their AI-based algorithm.
Currently available as a website and an Android application, Vowelor has more than 5,000 downloads. It plans to launch an iOS application soon.
Vowelor also has micro-communities inside the application. After logging in, users can search for micro-communities or book clubs, and send a request to join these clubs. Users can also create their own book club, where they can swap notes about books and authors. Readers also get personalised book recommendations on their feed to find their next read.
"We focus on the needs of the readers and authors, and that's why we are building a community and not a marketplace or ecommerce platform," says Manik.
The platform also regularly creates content based around reading and books, as well as book reviews.
Apart from user-generated discussions on its micro-communities and Facebook page, Vowelor offers an 'Author Program' on its website to provide budding authors with a marketing platform. Authors can choose a suitable promotion budget according to their preference, and the rates of these promotional programmes start from Rs 1,000 (for in-app promotional features.) The promotion programme has three levels - book review on website, strategic book promotion on website, and book promotion on social media.
In 2018, Vowelor received more than 100 author promotion requests, "Of which we have selected and covered 30 authors on the website," says Manik. This is the platform’s revenue stream.
Bootstrapped-Vowelor now receives up to 15 requests each month. The team has worked with authors including Neena Lekhi, Anita Krishan, Arpit Vageria and Rishabh Puri.
The books market
According to the Association of Publishers in India (API), there are more than 9,000 publishers, and more than 21,800 bookstores in India. While local startups like Chennai-based Notion Press, and Noida-based AllAuthor are helping authors promote their work, Vowelor aims to bring together authors, readers, publishers, and bookstores in a single ecosystem.
"With more than 90,000 titles being published every year across various genres, hardly 50 books get good readership. The rest of the authors are our potential customers," says Manik.
Vowelor is trying to build a cross culture social media network for book lovers.
According to the founders, the platform has received positive organic traction since inception, without having to spend any money on marketing.
"Developing the website and then the application, along with operating expenses has cost us around $30,000 over the last two years," says Manik.
Vowelor plans to maximise their reach and work on feedback to provide a stable platform.
"We also plan to partner with publishing houses and bookstores to expand our reach, and open new revenue streams," says Manik.
The startup is actively seeking their first funding.