Daryaganj in Delhi, Church Street in Bangalore and College Street in Kolkata have been among the popular hubs for many generations scouting for second hand books.
While finding an old title across these streets still holds its own magic, competition from online chains betting big on second hand books is on the rise. That, experts point out, can change the dynamics of the unorganised industry selling used books.
Estimated at over $2 billion, the books industry in India is growing at about 20%. Of the total industry, more than 10% makes for second hand books, estimates suggest.
Many websites have come up solely dedicated to selling second hand books. Among the popular names are madbooks.com, secondhandbooksindia.com. Even websites such asinfibeam.com, bookadda.com have started pilot projects and free applications that help people buy and sell second hand books.
“We have over 1 lakh titles. We work on an inventory led model. We buy books from a range of people including individuals and used book dealers,“ says Sharad Churamani, founder of secondhandbooksindia.com which started operations nine years ago and has gained size recently.
The website uses a ‘wallet’ that a consumer has to fill in before starting his shopping. The minimum amount starts from Rs 29. “We have about 200-300 customers each month from our pool of buyers and the average wallet size is of about Rs 500”, says Churamani.
There are others who use the marketplace model to sell second hand books. As against inventory-led format, marketplace model is about hosting multiple sellers on a website.
One such is Madbooks.com, which formally launched in August 2012. It has a catalogue of over 20,000 books and over 2000 sellers. The website claims to sell to more than 500 buyers a month and takes a cut of about 10-15% from the sellers. “Our customers are usually students and people in their first jobs, between the age of 20-30 years,” says Prince Goel, Co-founder of madbooks.com.
Most of its sellers are located in Tier I cities. These are also students who make pocket money by selling these books, says Goel. The website works on a lean model merely employing two other people, apart from the founders.
Experts point at many challenges in selling second hand books online. First the high cost of delivery in India may be higher than the price of book itself, says Hemant Kohli, founder of bookadda.com.
Others argue it is not economically viable to run it in a market place model where the buyer, seller and the fulfilment centres might be located in three different cities. Also to hoard the books at one centre, like in inventory led model and to ship it across the vast size of the country might prove expensive and the consumer might prefer the local market.
“It’s a fairly flourishing industry in metros, but two most important aspects of it are pricing and delivery, ” says Milan Sheth, Partner & Advisory, Ernst & Young. He adds one can bargain on the street but on the internet there is no room for that.
Countering experts on high delivery cost, Goyal of Madbooks.com says many of the sellers use book post or India Post which does not cost more than Rs 30. Also the price of delivery is included in the cost of the book displayed,” according to Goel.
Long-term discounted contracts with courier partners are also useful. “Our contracts with the courier partners help us contain the high delivery costs in India. We also encourage customers to buy more than one books and provide them incentives for that. Most of our customers are repeat buyers who buy more than one book,” says Churamani.
In the coming years, the share of second hand books in the overall books market is expected to rise as many players are going for the e-commerce route.