Even as online rentals for products is yet to be validated as a sustainable business model at least in India (remember what happened to DVD rentals?), there are new startups trying their hand at it, albeit with a different proposition. One such firm is a Delhi-based startup, which has just launched an online library Hookedonbook.com with a paid subscription model, while also hedging the business with an online store for second hand books.
The site claims to have more than 10,000 books as of now and offers free delivery and pick-up for all its books. The site went live just last week, and as of now the service is only available in the Delhi-NCR region.
Hookedonbook Pvt Ltd was founded by Vikram Khosla in April 2012. Prior to Hookedonbook, Khosla was running an import-export business in the US, before shifting base back to India. He holds a B.E degree in Computer Sciences from Karnataka University and has designed the site himself. The company handles its own logistics and has a team size of 12 people, including delivery boys.
For renting the books, users have to first sign up for a monthly membership. As of now, there are three types of memberships available that include 'individual plan', 'buddies plan' and 'family plan' for Rs 500, Rs 750 and Rs 1,000, respectively. The members also have to pay a security deposit equivalent to twice the amount of the membership they have opted for (basically two months membership). So if you opt for the Rs 500 plan, the security deposit will be Rs 1,000, and so on. The individual plan allows its members to rent up to four books in a month, while for buddies plan it is eight per month and for family plan the number goes up to 60 books per month (two books a day).
As of now, the only available payment method is cash on delivery (COD), but the company will gradually enable online payments as well.
"The idea for Hookedonbook actually came from my daughter, who could not find good libraries (both online and offline) to rent books here, after returning from the US," said Khosla.
Once a member, readers can select a list of books they want to read and the company delivers them one by one at their doorsteps. If by chance, the number one book in the readers list is not available, the company delivers the number two book in the list, while promising to make the number one book available to the reader in a fortnight.
The maximum delivery time for a book is 48 hours and readers can keep them for as long as their membership lasts. Some of the new titles we found on the site included Calico Joe (John Grisham), Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James), What Young India Wants (Chetan Bhagat) and In Different Form (Yuvraj Singh).
Readers can also choose to buy/gift books and members are offered additional discounts on them. The company also plans to start selling off used books (the ones used for renting) at heavy discounts (50 to 80 per cent) after 3 months.
The company has a dedicated research team that selects the books to be added to the library. The company also plans to launch offline libraries and claims that the first one will be setup in Delhi in the next two months.
"What separates the site is the fact that unlike regular libraries, we update the library with new books on a daily basis. Also, if a reader cannot find a book on the site, he/she can request for the book and we will provide it to them," he added.
That could be a good hook for a voracious reader, after-all why buy when you can pay same amount to read 2-3 books more, that too books which you have not read yet and is fresh from the latest bestsellers list.
One possible reason why DVD rentals business did not work out was that the catalogue used to be old. If an online library manages to plug that issue with new books that comes to the market, this could be a workable business plan, though serious challenges remain on the execution side. After-all it costs money to buy the books and deliver (the company is bootstrapped as of now).
We did some digging and found a few other online libraries like Doorstepbooks.com (claims to offer 6000+ books and is present pan India) and Thelibrary.in. So Hookedonbook is not the first to think of such a plan.
We think one alternate way to approach this business is to try it with e-books (with a time bound auto delete function), which may cut costs to bare minimum, while taking out the pain of logistics. Watch out for updates on whether startups can do with books what others including VC funded firms could not manage with DVDs.
(Edited by Prem Udayabhanu)