Well, time for another business idea. This is something I have been dying to work on – if only I had the time.
Product Name: Bookish.in
For now the dot in i is a dog-eared page, and the text in all its web-do-point-do-ish goodness has a reflection.
Bookish is primarily an aggregator with three things in one: a) A local book metasearch engine b) comparison site for books c) a platform for physical bookstore owners to sell books online.
A Google-simple search box where you can search for a books. It searches through all the physical bookstore catalogues in the vicinity (say Delhi NCR) and comes up with a list of results with price comparisons. Subsequently, depending on what all distribution methods a particular bookstore offers, you can either call them/pick the book up/order it online.
Relevance to a consumer: There no one-stop-shop for books in India. Either you have to visit 2-3 bookstores to find the book you want, or you crawl through online bookstores pretty much all of which suffer from a lack of good collection of books (by the way I had this view for a bit which it appears has been challenged – to be explained later), and have really trashy websites (This seems pretty chronic). Also some people may not be inclined to shop online and wait for a few days for their books to arrive. Bookish solves all these problems by a) collecting data from multiple stores (so good collection of books – which can technically cover all possible books given enough participating stores) b) best prices (through comparisons) c) consumer chooses mode of transaction (go and pick it up from the actual store/home delivery via phone/online purchase)
What will make or break it?
Of course it has no relevance if you cannot convince physical bookstores that this is a good idea. What’s going for them is – an online presence, increased possibility of purchase and a new sales channel (if they choose to sell books online – By the way, Bookish makes this easy for them by introducing standard packaging methods, courier relationships and customer support. Thus they just need an inventory of books which they already have).
On the flip side they may choose not to share their catalogues – as they may not be too keen on making their prices comparable and thus visible to all. They probably can’t exercise differential pricing then. Or they may prefer an individual web presence rather than a collaborative one (especially us Bhartiyas). Some may even have some sort of a rudimentary or extensive web presence and would rather not be a part of this project.
a) It can also search through the catalogues of online bookstores and give you the results for comparison – in a much better interface. I don’t know how feasible is this though – most of these sites probably don’t have a formal method such an API to integrate with them and scraping results off them might be illegal – for example, I remember Bixee had some issues with Naukri. (Link)
b) Each book search also links to book reviews on Amazon, popular book blogs and newspaper book reviews. This will be more efficient than Google. Also all book review sources can be voted up or down by users – fine tuning the best set of resources on the web for book reviews.
c) A used book listings area where people can add books they are willing to sell or exchange and even these are indexed in the search results. By the way you may be interested in reading about Alibris when it comes to the used books market. A good analysis is done in the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Meanwhile you can read what it is here and book notes on the relevant chapter in the Long tail here – pretty good. It also mentions LibraryThing by the way – one of my absolute favorite web-based services – just learnt on Wikipedia that they also have a book swapper feature. Here is my page with some functional tags (have to add more books here). (Link)
d) A “Me is a Third World Sucker” feature whereby, people who are travelling outside the country post their trips and other users can request them to buy the books that are not available in India. (Guess I am inspired here from http://www.mitfahrgelegenheit.de/ – an online hitch-a-ride system in Germany which works rather well). Come to think of it, this “Third World Sucker” thing can probably stand on its own as a Pondi’s Business Idea.
How will it make money?
As far as costs of running Bookish are concerned a bunch of things can help – it can keep it’s costs low by not maintaining an inventory at all. Second it can recruit college students to help digitise physical bookstore catalogues and sales (wishful thinking?). It can make money through internet advertising (don’t they all), but also referral fees from participating bookstores and a fraction of the sales done online.
Links and some thoughts on existing online/physical bookstores in India.
Firstandsecond.com: Trashy website. Bad search. “If it’s in print it’s with us!” – Searching for “art of the start” in Books>Title gets no results. Also for the books they dont have, they probably order them from Amazon and then ship ’em to you – which is why they are as expensive as their dollar price and take 21 days to ship. (Link)
Indiaplaza.in: This is where I would like to retract my statement about online bookstores not having a good collection. Looks like after Fabmall rebranding itself as Indiaplaza they have done some serious rejigging in their books section. I found pretty much all the books I looked for (though the search can get better). Also they have an annual membership program for Rs. 500 – and you get 25% off on ALL books (plus a free book for Rs. 500 or less). I had gone there looking for something else and ended up buying the membership. Oh and the “Price Challenge” is a sham by the way – they don’t even reply to those emails.
Prakashbooks.com: Well, I know the site is nothing to talk about – but you get some 20-25% discount and I did get the books I had ordered once.
Also an article on online book sales in India here.
My personal favorite is Midland, Aurobindo Market. Amazing collection and you always get a 15-20% discount. They have just opened in Ph I market DLF. Yay!
Also noteworthy, as per some of my friends (though I haven’t shopped here much), is Bahrisons in Khan Market. Browsing around bookstores in CP is a lot of fun – especially the old/used books’ seller near Nizam’s.
Of the big chains in Delhi (Om, Landmark, Crossword) Landmark is hands down the best – very well catalogued and an equally well informed staff.
To make this post even longer here are some sites I discovered which are doing PBBI kinda stuff.
Seems similar to what I am doing with PBBI (of course, with some minor readership differences :))
Someone linked to this on the Ideawicket suggestion page. Couldn’t get time to look through much, though the site is designed well. It’s an Irish site.