First off let me acknowledge that the title of this post is a bit exaggerated and not really apt but I wanted to use it anyways. Onto the topic now.
I’ve been kinda following(not very regularly though) the Indian startup scene ever since my Slideshare days and things have definitely changed in the last year or two. There are a lot more startups(of all sorts) now ranging from deal a day sites like snapdeal to comics companies like Vimanika. It’s absolutely amazing to see people from non tech background also coming forward and creating products/services in their respective fields. However being from a tech(web) background I am particularly interested in web startups.
The majority of current crop of Indian web startups is (not surprisingly) focused on e-commerce and as with the previous wave of Indian social web startups are religiously following the same path. Somebody whom I met last month mentioned that some 20 e-commerce sites or so are registered with payment gateways every month and a vast majority of them are into selling books. Yes, that’s the “thing” I am talking about. Suddenly everyone wants to do e-commerce and guess what they want to sell? Yes, BOOKS.
While it is not at all difficult to understand why selling books online is one of easiest (especially if you are an ex-amazon) and probably lucrative thing to do what defies me is WHY everyone who sets up an e-commerce store can’t seem to think beyond books? Unless I am missing something obvious here (point me if I am) selling books(particularly to begin with) might not be the best thing these days.
Here are a few reasons why I feel selling books isn’t the best way to start e-commerce
Differentiation: I have told this to at least a couple aspiring entrepreneurs the biggest reason why I feel an e-commerce startup should not start by selling books is differentiation. How on world will you differentiate yourself from half a dozen almost established and established online bookstores out there in the market?
It becomes particularly difficult when you are late in the book market by at least 2 years and will take at least another 8-12 months to figure out(if at all) how the Indian book market works.
Red Ocean: Loosely related to the first point is the second point of competition. Online book market in India is easily one of the most sought after pie. From independent online retail companies to established bookchains everybody is trying to own as much as they can of this market and unless you have a significant edge in terms of vision/talent, money/resources and distribution/publishing it doesn’t make a lot of sense to join the chaos.
Logistics: Based on my experience of selling books I’ve realized that this is highly logistics oriented business. Since the whole model is based on economics of scale one needs to sell as many books as possible(very low average cost per item). Handling lots of books means lots of procurement, stocking, handling, shipping etc. This can be a huge pain during the initial days of a startup. This problem of high logistics can be avoided by dealing in other items of higher values where despite having lesser % margins one can make good amount of money.
Having said that I think people who want to start an e-commerce business should actively consider other options which have a demand but no one else is focusing on. Though I must say I haven’t deeply thought about the business/feasibility aspect I would actually love to see some Indian e-commerce company sell the following(in a proper way with due diligence)
My new startup ‘Dial-a-Book’ has got its first mention in print media today. It’s been almost a year since I started working on Dial-a-Book along with my younger brother and it’s been an absolute fun ride.
Here’s an excerpt from the article
Dial-a-Book is a Delhi-based start-up founded by brothers Mayank and Tarang Dhingra. Tarang, 25, is a final-year student at the University of Delhi. Mayank, 27, is a software engineer who left a corporate job at Fidelity International in 2005 to work for a string of tech start-ups—from SlideShare, an online presentation hosting service, to MPower Mobile, which works with mobile payments. In 2008, before the Twitter bandwagon bulldozed its way across the country’s Internet landscape, he experimented with creating a Twitter-like service for India called Kwippy—which Mayank called a “conversational platform”. The site folded in mid-2009, and subsequent dabbling in ideas on what to do next led to Dial-a-Book
I did a small(or not so) 10 multiple choice question survey to get an idea about people’s book buying habits and here’s what came out of the survey which was taken by 100 people from across India. I didn’t seek too much demographic information other than the respondant’s city.
Of the 48 people who shared their cities 22 were from Delhi/NCR, 6 from Mumbai and Bangalore each and one, two from Udaipur, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Pune, Thane, Kochi etc
1) 43% of the respondants buy a book a month or so and 34% people buy a book every few months.
2) A good 50.5 % of respondants buy books from bookstores only and 7.1% buy online only.
3) 14.3% of the people who buy books online get about 10-15% discount and 11.2 % people get 5-10% and 15-20% discount each.
4) A little more than one fourth of people who buy books from bookstores get ‘No Discount’ and on the other hand about one fourth people get more than 15% discount.
5) More than 88 % people feel the delivery time for books is important and about 5% people are ok with waiting for more days as long as they get good discount.
6) Flipkart and Indiaplaza are the popular sites for buying books with 19.6% and 11.3% people respectively.
7) About 40% of people that buy books online get them delivered within a week or so
What has been your experience when it comes to buying books in India ? Anything you feel is missing ?
Here’s a goodie for all software developers(especially web). The mavericks at 37signals have compiled their thoughts on software development in form of a book aptly titled “Getting Real“.
What is getting real ?
Getting Real is about skipping all the stuff that represents real (charts, graphs, boxes, arrows, schematics, wireframes, etc.) and actually building the real thing.
Getting real is less. Less mass, less software, less features, less paperwork, less of everything that’s not essential (and most of what you think is essential actually isn’t).
Getting Real is staying small and being agile.
Getting Real starts with the interface, the real screens that people are going to use. It begins with what the customer actually experiences and builds backwards from there. This lets you get the interface right before you get the software wrong.
A couple of days back I got to know about a new book titled “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” by Wired Magazine editor and author of bestseller “Long Tail” Chris Anderson. Next thing I got to know was true to it’s name “Free’s audio book is available for download for free“. While downloading the audio book I was wondering if the book is free just for audio format or will it’s e-book also be available for free ?
While browsing the web today I found out that Free’s e-book is also available for free. Excited, I clicked the URL to get my hands on the free e-book.
But to my unpleasant surprise, I ran into this
Frustrated by this(hypocrisy?) I searched around to realize that the not only is the e-book restricted to just US, it’s just free to read and not download. There you go again.
When I got to know about the free audio book I decided to buy a paperback copy for myself soon but given the weird policies regarding book’s availability in other formats I am not sure if I’ll be doing that anymore.
While Chris Anderson & Co figure out what’s the right way to market the book without screwing their economics you can either listen to it’s audiobook or read the book on Scribd(using a DNS proxy like hidemyass.com in case you aren’t in the US) or read it here.