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On-the-line to online

Ram Gopal Sharma and Sons in Shankar Market, the city’s oldest rental bookshop, had been losing business over the years. Manoj Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: Jun 19, 2009 23:36 IST
Manoj Sharma

Ram Gopal Sharma and Sons in Shankar Market, the city’s oldest rental bookshop, had been losing business over the years.

Owner Manjula Sharma, 55, was worried. Then her daughter-in-law Nidhi Verma shifted from Bangalore to Delhi, and solved all of Sharma’s problems.

“I decided to make our book rental service online,” said Verma, who launched bookmeabook.com,the city’s first online rental book service one-and-a-half years ago. Today, the online library has 1,000 members across Delhi and NCR and a stock of 20,000 books.

“Most people thought the idea would not work, but my mother-in-law gave me a lot of moral and monetary support,” said Verma, sitting surrounded by thousands of old, yellowed books and new glazed titles. A laptop is her constant companion.

Verma, 32, runs her online book rental service from both her home in Khan Market, and the 52-year-old shop, which was once
the favourite haunt of book lovers in Connaught Place and neighbouring areas.

Today, her online rental service has maximum members in Gurgaon.

“It has more tech- savvy people, who are more open to online transactions than those in Delhi,” explained Verma.

A mother of two daughters, Verma’s job involves checking new orders from her members, cataloguing the new books and visiting her warehouse every evening in Paharganj, from where about 50 titles are couriered to members everyday.

“At times, I get a call as early as 5 am from people inquiring about a particular book. But I do not mind it,” said Verma.
Her lending plans range from Rs 150 to Rs 600 a month.

Competition
Verma got competition eight months ago, when Arti Jain, 35,and her husband Manish Kumar launched friendsofbooks.com.
The couple, who run the service from their apartment in Patparganj in East Delhi, left their jobs in the US to start the venture.

Enter their home and you see books, cartons, bookmarks and labeled envelopes strewn all over.

What prompted them to start the online book rental service?

“Both my husband and I are book lovers. Unlike in the US, where you have bookshops and libraries at walking distance, in India one has to go far to buy books. We wanted to make reading an easier and more enjoyable experience,” said Jain.

Friends of Books now has about 5,000 titles and adds about 300 more a month. The membership plans start from Rs 150 a month (for two books delivered to your home, free of charge by courier, and payment can be made online through credit card or cheque).

“We constantly encourage our readers to suggest new titles. At times, I also recommend children’s books to parents,” said Jain.

Their library also accepts donations of books.