October 29, 2015

From The Archive of Interviews: The Pakistani Book-Buying Website

Kitabain.com is an online book-buying portal which allows users based in Pakistan to both buy books as well as sell their own. 

How does kitabain.com work, as in what is the set-up? 
Anyone is free to put up their books on the website for sale from individuals to large bookstores. Our automated process has meant that about 140,000 books have been uploaded on the website to date!  We sell and deliver countrywide with Cash on Delivery available in most places.

How has the overall response been in the country? 
Excellent! The platform that started with zero books has perhaps the largest online collection in Pakistan. We get book lovers from all over including the smallest towns and cities. However we feel that we have only scratched the surface and there is tremendous opportunity for growth, given Pakistan's huge population.  We are determined to do our bit in kick-starting the book reading culture.

What about from particular cities?
Large cities particularly Karachi and Lahore still constitute our biggest client base.

On what social media platforms does kitabain.com work? 
Primarily Facebook and Twitter.

Who controls these accounts? 
I personally run these accounts.

What is the level of interaction with the users of kitabain.com on the internet?
We mostly interact via direct email for any queries or concerns.

How does the promotion of the website work? 
Word of Mouth primarily! We participate in Book Fairs, give talks in schools/colleges etc, plus the media coverage about our services has helped. We don't consistently advertise due to a shortage of resources.

Are there any associations with any other literary organizations?
Not formally.

Tell me about the other start-ups you have worked on.
We(Jawed, Rumman and I) started out The ReadersClub, a book rental service, in 2009 based on the idea of providing a cost effective and efficient way for people across the city to indulge their reading habits from the comfort of their home/office. It wasn't started as a commercial venture but rather to address the gnawing problems of a lack of libraries and the high cost of books. The response to the service has been extremely encouraging and beyond our most optimistic expectations. What started out with 30 books, no members or staff has grown to a library collection of over 5,500 books with a few hundred members all over Karachi.

After that we started Kitabain.com in 2010, and we recently signed a contract with TCS (Pakistan`s largest courier company) where we are now the exclusive provider of books on their recently launched e-commerce portal via a real-time API integration. Our latest initiative Urdu Studio aims to be the premier online portal for delivering high quality digital Urdu Audio Books. The Urdu Audio Books idea that was conceived in 2009, finally got the much needed impetus for implementation, when it was selected amongst the first batch of winners to receive a Google seeded P@SHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) fund for Social Innovation. This is just the start of what we hope will be a long and successful endeavour, to rekindle a love for Urdu and pass on its rich heritage to a new generation! 
We've also recently signed a long term contract with Amazon where our audio books are now available on all Amazon-owned digital properties worldwide, and we also inked a deal with India`s largest Audio Books Distributor Reado.

What do you think of the current scene of English book writing in Pakistan? What about Urdu writing?
I think we have had some very good English writers over the last few years with very popular titles, but Urdu is lacking that breakaway title and international success especially by up-and-coming writers

What do you think of the current scene of book publishing in Pakistan?
Pathetic! Most popular English titles have to be imported raising the cost of books. Our own writers get published abroad, because the local publishing scene is not something people want to rely upon. As for Urdu there doesn't seem to be enough demand for a large scale industry to take hold. Sang-e-meel in Lahore is doing a great job though.

What do you think about Pakistani readers? Are there a lot or only a few? 
I think yes, people in this country do want to read, but price and availability is a big deterrent.

Do they read in a particular language? Do they have any preferences in terms of genres? Does anyone keep track of this in Kitabain.com?
We get all sorts but primarily people looking for books written in English. Fiction seems to the most popular but it is difficult to generalize.

Do you know if there are any statistics about readers in Pakistan?
Not that we know of.

What would you say needs to happen in Pakistan in order to increase readership?
We really need to start encouraging and promoting local publications. Also, figure out ways to have cheaper books, since ridiculously high book prices are always a huge problem during the buying process. I think parents and schools need to do their part by putting a serious emphasis towards reading at an early age. And of course more bookstores, libraries etc.

What is the worst part of being a Pakistani who is passionate about reading?
Expensive books or books which aren’t always available. Also it’s really hard sometimes to discover new and interesting titles.