Your book is a chat away

Updated: 19 September, 2020 08:38 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Led by a city-based pop-up, independent bookstores and second-hand sellers are pivoting during the pandemic by facilitating sales through WhatsApp groups

Nothing trumps the feeling of entering a bookstore, for a bibliophile. At a time when that may not be feasible for all, we're here to tell you that the experience of walking into a virtual one is just as thrilling. How do we know? Well, we tried it — on WhatsApp (WA). On Sunday morning, we joined the WA group of Bengaluru's iconic Select Bookshop that was established in 1945, and is known for its eclectic collection of second-hand books and rare titles. The bookstore was starting its sale at 10.30 am, as announced by their marketing manager Katitra Debnath, who also laid out the rules: pictures of the books would be posted with details on its price and condition, and claims would be considered on an FFF (Fastest Finger First) basis.

After the pictures rolled in, the group chat was open for claims; it was both startling and heartening to see the rate at which the 200-odd people in the group rushed to grab their titles, albeit in a very organised manner. Debnath tells us that approximately 75 per cent of the stock he put out on Sunday was sold.

The Dogears Bookshop, Goa,
The Dogears Bookshop, Goa

The WA model came to fruition last month as the city-based pop-up Twice Told started hosting its second-hand book sale on the messaging platform. Helmed by book recommendation site What Are You Reading Today? (WAYRT), the collective SwapBook! and design consultants Dhakka & Bhagat, Twice Told was held at CoWrks in Worli for the past two years but a physical event this year would be impossible to execute. At the same time, second-hand sellers were badly impacted. That's when Pravin Subramanian of SwapBook! suggested the idea of having the event on WA.

Select Bookshop, Bengaluru, are on WhatsApp
Select Bookshop, Bengaluru, are on WhatsApp

The response for the virtual event which included eight sellers, including Select, was overwhelming and once orders were shipped out, sellers were handed over the groups to take charge of them independently. "The biggest advantage of an online book sale is that you are not restricted by geography. So, we have readers joining from Patna and Kashmir," Mansi Dhanraj Shetty, founder of WAYRT, says.

Mansi Dhanraj Shetty
Mansi Dhanraj Shetty

For city-based sellers like Hitler Nadar and Vivek Pandey, these sales provided a means for sustenance. While Leonard Fernandes, co-founder of The Dogears Bookshop in Goa, shares that business is doing better than before as people seem to be reading more at home, the WA sale made him realise that the notion that people don't read much in India is a misconception. "They want to read, know exactly what they want to read and go to great lengths to read it," he says, adding 80 per cent of the stock he listed was sold, with people willing to pay now-inflated shipping costs. Nitin Dubey, who helped sellers track claims, says that although the messaging service has a group limit of 256 members, it allows more opportunity for interaction than say, Facebook or Instagram, and is easier for less tech-savvy folks to adapt to.

Shetty hopes that the model is something bookstore owners who want to shut shop consider to kick-start sales. "We are open to helping struggling independent bookstores and second-hand booksellers via Twice Told. We are planning a sale on Comic Book Day and a couple in October," she informs.

Log on to @wayrtgrams on Instagram (for queries)

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First Published: 19 September, 2020 08:04 IST

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