The idea of launching a website dedicated to Bangladeshi books first came to the mind of Farid Uddin Md. Akbar when he was studying at the University of Pune. An ardent bookworm himself, he saw in the Internet a new opportunity to sell Bangla books, especially old out of print ones like Kazi Anwar Hossain's 'Kuasha Series' or the first or second volume of Masud Rana.
“After I finished my graduation in late 2004 I was looking into different options to pursue my next years. Reading books had been my personal passion since very early years of my life. So the condition of Bangladeshi book information over the web or rather lack of information on fingertips had been my personal agony for a very long time,” Akbar says. Some of his friends had started already working on a book website earlier in 2002. “But unfortunately,” he says, “because of other career commitments it was not possible for them to complete and execute the project. When I was informed of it, I was very interested in working on it and over time had to take over the responsibility for the whole project. Ever since, we are improving information for Bangladeshi books online.”
Over the years, the site has evolved and become the largest to sell Bangladeshi books on the Internet. Selling books online, as many may have been thinking, is not at all a complicated process. The site is extremely user-friendly. The visitors can look for books by their favourite authors, category, publisher, and price range. They make a selection of the books they like to buy and can make the payment via popular payment website paypal. Sometimes for a customer who does not hold an online payment account, boi-mela allows them to pay to our bank account straightaway.
Once an order is confirmed, the site procures the books and ships them to the customer. “Although slow,” Akbar says, “we use the Book Post option of GPO to keep the cost low from our end and as well as customers. They need to pay only the money, which is needed to post the book to their destination on top of the cost of the books. So if a book sells for 90 taka in Dhaka we keep the same price in the website as well. Being customer friendly has paid off over the years.”
From collecting and updating information about books to procuring and shipping them, the task is huge. The site has four individuals dedicated to this, which also includes customer query management and technical maintenance.
In a country where the culture of reading books is waning, boi-mela is getting positive response from its clients. “The number of books we sell is quite a variant number. There are examples when we sold few hundred books a month and there are quieter periods when there have been less than fifty books sold in the whole month. Times like February when the actual book fair takes place, we get a higher frequency of queries in general,” Akbar says.
For a company that is still in infancy, Akbar has an ambitious plan: “As our project was one of the pioneering ones, there is plenty of room to grow. The size of first, second and third generation of Bangladeshi residents worldwide is quite large. So to satisfy their needs making it more familiar is our first priority. Also we intend to add content for the visitors to read as well, not only to buy. For that we are pursuing the publishers to make available a few books every year for online reading as well. Thus the number of visitors who will be interested in buying will increase as well. Also that will put a stop to the rampant piracy that is going on for the popular books over the Internet at the moment. Also we are hoping to make our service popular to the libraries and international Bangladeshi shops as well to use.”
The government's indecision regarding e-commerce remains a major obstacle between reality and Akbar's dream. “The government of Bangladesh is yet to take necessary steps to clear the obstacles for electronic commerce. Formation and Permission to form online money transfer processors will be a great help. Also making credit/debit cards easier to afford will empower more people with tools to operate online,” he says.
There is no site for those who live abroad and have a thirst for Bangla books. Throughout the world local languages, faced with globalisation, have been facing a stiff challenge from English, French and Spanish. Boi-mela, if given ample opportunities, can play a vital role in rejuvenation of our culture and heritage in places as far away as North America or Western Europe. The government should come forward to give short and long term loans to internet-based companies like boi-mela. And it must make online transactions legal, and it should allow and welcome third party money transaction authorities.
© Ahmede Hussain