How BooksbyKilo made its way into bibliophiles' good books with an innovative idea

Mumbai-based BooksByKilo offers quality books at extremely low prices - they are sold by their weight. The startup’s ability to source popular pre-loved titles has hit the sweet spot with its audience despite the proliferation of e-books and audio offerings.
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Being a bibliophile, Abhishek Sayam observed that e-books and audiobooks were more a matter of convenience than experience. “The smell of a book, the feel and rustle of a paper is irreplaceable. Physical books provide so much visual and tactile comfort,” he says.

But, the rise of popularity of audiobooks and ebooks was telling a different story. When Abhishek delved deeper, he realised that one of the factors that contributed to the plummeting popularity of physical books was the cost of owning one.

However, he also saw that second-hand books were often available in mint condition. Putting the two together, combined with his love for books, Abhishek in 2018 started on a journey to reintroduce the love for reading physical books with Books By Kilo, an offline store in Kamothe in Mumbai. Three months later, they went online as well.

Second-hand books for a first-hand reading

BooksByKilo offers good quality books at extremely low prices, as they are priced by their weight. The online platform has a wide range of books - from teen and adult fiction to children’s books.

“These are not the pirated, low-quality books often sold in neighbourhood second-hand book stores. These are all 100 percent original and pre-loved books,” Abhishek says.

The startup’s ability to source good quality pre-loved popular titles has hit the sweet spot with its audience.

Sharing how he put in place a sourcing model for his books, Abhishek says, “We started with vendor lookup. We tracked a few in India and abroad. On detailed scrutiny and quality check, we finalised some of them to be our vendors”.

Today, the startup sources book from vendors across India, buying in bulk and then sorting the inventory in their warehouse.

Staying relevant has been another big growth driver for the startup, Abhishek says. “We try to maintain a balance between what we think readers want and what they actually want. Though our marketing is on a small scale, we try to keep it to the point. Our exhibitions have been advantageous in terms of reaching the masses. And of course, our quality. It's been almost two years with zero-order returns," he says.

Using WhatsApp to connect

As the business began to grow, BooksByKilo knew it had to keep its customers happy. This is where the WhatsApp for Business App came in handy.

“It helped us engage with our customers at a personal level without being intrusive. Be it for informing customers about the order status, taking feedback, or understanding their requirement, WhatsApp was the most preferred channel. It also helped our team to respond to customer queries more efficiently without needing to shift to devices.”

“With WhatsApp, even business communication became informal. It broke down the psychological barriers for customers. And, interacting with customers effectively saw the sales shoot up by 40 percent,” Abhishek adds.

In addition, WhatsApp Business features such as instant messaging and group broadcasting of messages helped the startup to save time as they could now promote books to multiple contacts at once.

A multi-fold impact

Today, BooksByKilo sells 5,000 books on average each month. “There is a huge demand for children’s books as well as teen and adult fiction. Also, renowned authors such as Dan Brown, Jeffery Archer, and Julia Donaldson are always in high demand,” Abhishek shares.

The startup is focusing on "spend less and read more". But, that’s not the only impact it has been able to create. While it has helped book lovers invest in original books instead of purchasing low-quality, pirated editions, it has also made a positive environmental impact.

“With every tonne of books sold, we have been instrumental in saving 17 fully grown trees, 1,500 litres of oil, 81 cubic feet of a landfill, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 litres of water. So far we have sold five tonnes of books.”

Reinventing a ‘dusty’ concept

While BooksByKilo has been sourcing from large vendors till now, the team is now working on the ‘buying a book’ business model, which will allow them to procure books from anyone in India in return for BooksByKilo credits or actual money.

Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Abhishek says, “What attracted me to build BooksbyKilo was the concept of selling books by weight and not MRP. But, the concept was poorly implemented in second-hand book stores. They were equated with dusty old books that no one wanted to read. I wanted to prove otherwise. It was challenging to say the least, for it forced us to develop a model not attempted by anyone. It challenged our confidence level. But we came through just right. Today, when things don’t go our way, we remember those difficult days.”

When asked if he would channel his entrepreneurial spirit elsewhere, the book lover says, “Being a bibliophile, I always wanted to do something with books. If not for BooksByKilo, I would probably be a book cover designer or a bookmark maker.”

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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