‘We shouldn’t teach great books, we should teach a love for great reading.’
There is now a forum that follows the wisdom of this saying by facilitating passionate readers in Karachi with an online library. Founded by Usman Siddiqi and Jawad Yousuf, The Readers Club is a unique book rental service initiated two years back. With TRC, book lovers and addicts in Karachi can rent their favourite titles, read and then return them and get others. It works exactly like a library, only better: the books come to your doorstep.
With about 3000 books and 300 active members, this forum seems to be growing in popularity among all kinds of people from housewives and elderly readers to the children and the youth. The success of TRC encouraged the founders to start an online book store as well, called Kitabain.com. Kitabain has more than 50,000 books in store and makes deliveries all over Karachi. They have both English and Urdu books belonging to different genres including biographies and memoirs, current affairs and politics, history, religion, fantasy and sci-fi, children’s books, fiction, self help, cookery, graphic novels, humour, reference books and others.
Co-Founder Usman says: “We started The Readers Club to provide a cost effective and efficient way for people across the city to indulge in reading from the comfort of their homes and offices. It wasn’t started as a commercial venture but rather to address the gnawing problems of a lack of libraries and the high cost of books. The response to the service has been extremely encouraging and beyond our most optimistic expectations.”
Indeed, most avid readers have greeted the newly formed club with much joy and anticipation.
Ayesha Sana, a Canadian Pakistani who has now moved to Pakistan, says “When I moved here, I was amazed at how little Karachi had to offer to literary hobbyists like myself. It took me eight months of frustration before I came across Kitabain.com and Voila! I found my Amazon books right here in Karachi. From there I learnt about Readers Club and found it amazing. I think it’s a great service, especially for people like me who can’t live without devouring books. Their collection, however, needs some work and it would be nice if they expand the Readers Club collection.”
Aqsa who is a housewife with two kids, enjoys the easy-access factor the most, “The best part is being able to view books online, select them and simply place an order. I never had any issues with their delivery service too.” Aqsa’s eldest daughter, Umm-e-Qulsoom, is in kindergarten and she thinks it would be nice if there was more variety for Umm-e-Qulsoom too. “They do have lots of children’s books, but not many for her age. Sure I can go to their request option and ask for book titles, but it would be better if I had a pile to choose from.”
Usman says, “We have strong demographic data on what people want and what can get popular among our members.” The best driving force for Readers Club and Kitabain.com, he says, has been the customer loyalty.
According to Usman, it’s the feedback, suggestions and requisitions from users and members that have helped these sites to improve their functionality. Without paying any heed to the feedback, it would have been impossible to cater to the needs of the users.
He says they plan to expand Readers Club across Lahore and Islamabad gradually while they are already delivering in Lahore and a few other cities from Kitabain.com’s platform.
For now anyone is Karachi can read a title available on Readers Club’s online shelves or order a book for purchase from Kitabain.com.
Both Readers Club and Kitabain.com also cater to those who want to swap or sell their own titles with their members. Many book stores publish their hot titles on Kitabain.com for very reasonable rates. The best titles are mostly featured on the front page and sell like hot cakes. So if you have been clueless about what to do with your old books and where to buy new ones without putting a dent in your wallet, you know where to go. Reach out for your laptop!
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.