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Tech: App the reading quotient

Bibliophile Amrut Deshmukh hopes that his reading app will be an effective tool to egg India on to read, one book summary at a time

Self-help is Amrut Dekhmukh's favourite genre, but reading fiction, he says, has made him more empathetic. Pic/ Sushil Dhanawde

Thane-based Amrut Deshmukh was out one evening to catch a movie with a friend. There were still 15 minutes to go for the show, so Deshmukh, an avid reader, decided to share what he loved about his latest read with the friend. "The book was Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and after I was done narrating, my friend told me that it felt like he had read the book himself," shares Deshmukh. "Why don't you do something with book summaries?" he suggested, as the two settled in their seats. The film was a haze, and by the time the interval was announced, Deshmukh was out of the theatre. He knew what he had to do, and it couldn't wait. 

That was August 2015. What began as text summaries of books sent via WhatsApp to friends, soon became a broadcast list of thousands of readers, waiting to receive Deshmukh's synopsis of a book every Wednesday. On April 23, 2016, the birth and death anniversary of William Shakespeare celebrated as World Book Day, Deshmukh launched a free app called Booklet, where users can download audio and text summaries of five books at a time. His community of readers on WhatsApp and Booklet touched 1,00,000 this month. The 34-year-old is now working towards making the latter open to crowd-sourcing, where users can upload their own book summaries. "Many people often request summaries in Hindi; I am planning to launch a Hindi version of the app, too," reveals Deshmukh, who picks Simon Sinek as his favourite author.

A chartered accountant by profession, Deshmukh started out as a research analyst with a stock market firm in 2006. "All people talked about was money," he says, adding, "I always wanted to do something in the area of social entrepreneurship." But getting the idea right was just one step. A survey Deshmukh conducted a few months after he began sharing text summaries revealed that many weren't reading them at all. "I realised that to get people to read, I had to target them while they were commuting to work, driving, or cooking," says Deshmukh, who then started sending out audio summaries along with the text version. And that's when the idea took off.

The Booklet app, too, was born out of a challenge, when one day in March 2016, Deshmukh realised he had been blocked by WhatsApp. "Given the number of people I was reaching, they assumed I was a spammer," recalls Deshmukh, who mailed them, explaining his mission, and his account was restored. "That was the only week when readers didn't receive a book summary," says Deshmukh, who has sent out about 80 summaries of bestsellers across genres — business management, self-help, fiction, autobiographies and biographies — so far.

Given this capsule form of reading, isn't the idea somewhat counter-intuitive to his mission? "In the beginning, I too feared I was discouraging people from buying books. But I realised if people like the summary, they go ahead and buy the title," shares Deshmukh, who provides links to book retailers alongside the summaries, which has also proved to be a revenue model.

Interestingly, works from budding authors often land up at Deshmukh's home, and if he finds the writing compelling, he summarises the work. "With the state of reading habits, it's a struggle to be a new author. If my app can help someone, I'll be the happiest man."

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