There’s something oddly satisfying about the feeling of yellowing pages of a well-read, second-hand book against your fingers. Dog-eared corners, wrinkled cover and crinkly pages - the books are a testimony to endless memories.
Like a bildungsroman, the book narrates its journey in time and space giving us slivers of the events it has witnessed and people it has met over the years. The exhilarating smell of the pages gives us a peek into the previous owner’s life without them knowing.
There’s already a story taking shape in our heads, almost bordering on voyeurism.
Ah, the pleasures of stumbling upon a hurriedly scribbled note or a once blushing red bottlebrush pressed between the pages.
Second-hand books have an old-world charm that’s second to none. While the thrill of going to the weekly book bazaar is inexplicable, people are finding it increasingly difficult to frequent them owing to lack of time, unfavourable weather and busy schedules.
Enter online second-hand bookstores. Yes, they exist and yes, the trend is catching up. In this technologically advanced age, virtual stores for second-hand books are becoming quite the rage.
“I love it when books reach home with postcards and bookmarks,” says Shreya Sangai, an avid reader and an English literature major from New Delhi.
Pen and Parchment (P&P) is one such online portal that deals in second-hand books. Launched by four former Delhi University students, this six-month-old virtual bookstore has got people excited.
“P&P is less of a business, more of an extension of our love for books and reading,” says Shikha Kothiyal (23), co-founder.
Pen and Parchment, as a concept, took birth on the last page of a notebook on a lazy summer afternoon.
“It’s all about strategising and publicising. If you do it right, this is a novel idea and has not been capitalised on. Our identity is not our Facebook page or our website. Down the line, we want to be remembered as four people who made hundreds across the country happy by helping them fulfil their reading needs,” Kothiyal adds.
Founders say a personal approach is what sets Pen and Parchment apart from its rivals.
“We make sure every order is accompanied with handwritten complimentary postcards, bookmarks and thank you notes,” says Rupal Sharma (23), co-founder.
Avishek, a resident of Chennai and an IT professional, has shopped from P&P twice and has nothing but praise for the e-store.
“The website has some rare books which are otherwise difficult to find in the open market or on big e-commerce players such as Amazon and Flipkart. P&P’s books are inexpensive and in excellent condition,” he says.
Bibliofreaks , another online second-hand bookstore, was launched in 2013. The owners, Ganesh Reddy Indireddy and Indireddy Siva Sankar Reddy from Hyderabad, say e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart motivated them to start their business.
“Since all our books are priced at Rs. 99 each, we ran into loss initially, which we soon recovered by charging a slightly higher shipping rate. Our customers are delighted with the quality of books and prices we are offering,” they said.
Second Hand Books India , which has been around for 12 years, was started by Sharad Churamani (45), a post graduate in Business Economics, whose first love was books. “Second-hand book market in India is extremely unorganised and fractured, which prompted me to embark on this e-commerce adventure,” he says.
Based in Noida, Churamani too faces trouble over covering the logistics cost, that he tries to overcome by putting in place a unique cross subsidy model. “We charge Rs 17/22/25 per book for delivery and encourage customers to go for larger orders by offering small bonuses.”
Churamani says he avoids listing books on the website that are low in demand and will not sell easily because warehousing is expensive.
P&P and Bibliofreaks say they source their books from trusted suppliers, libraries, extra books with publishers, and even go door-to-door asking for books.
Churamani says they have tie-ups with major second-hand book suppliers who understand the business needs, source and collect books for them. “We do not go directly to small individual sellers as that is not a practical solution. Over the last 12 years, we have developed a robust sourcing network. We have the love of our customers and they are the cornerstones of our existence.”
SellBuyBook that was launched in 2015 by four former IIIT Delhi students, has a slightly different strategy of sourcing books. “Currently, we have tie-ups with book dealers but plan to buy books directly from users in future at Rs 100 per kg or on 10% of the MRP,” says Ashutosh Nandan (19) co-founder. This e-portal is launching its app in July, this year.
The downside of these websites is that they have a limited range of translated works and genres and there’s no scope to bargain. They also face the problem of increasing tendency of readers switching to digital forms.
“People’s reading habits are changing and many find it convenient to read their books on a screen (e-books) rather than carrying hard copies,” Kothiyal says.
“Yes, our biggest rival is Kindle,” Sharma adds with a chuckle.
But as Virginia Woolf said, “Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books … and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”
The physical form of the written word may still have a chance.