Budget-friendly books


April 1, 2024 | By Rupkatha B

Grace Karim and Somia Anwar, Co-founders, Bookends

Ask any booklover and they will tell you the joy of spending time in a bookstore. They will also confirm that its expensive to frequently buy full-priced books in the UAE. Two friends Grace Karim and Somia Anwar spotted this problem and decided to find a solution with their platform, Bookends.

As a first step, they decided to collect pre-loved books from friends and family to resale them. Priced as low as AED5-10, the pre-loved books sold quickly often making Dh1,000 within a couple of hours from each tabletop sale at festivals, schools and nurseries.

Having spotted a clear gap in the market Anwar and Karim were keen to launch a dedicated online platform for pre-loved books to offer a sustainable solution to encourage people of all ages to read more by giving them access to a wide range of books at an affordable cost. However, as with every startup funding was the first obstacle that they needed to overcome.

Bookends at a Glance

  • Year of Launch: 2020
  • Retail Footprint: An online marketplace along with a brick-and-mortar store in Dubai Silicon Oasis.
  • Over 1,300 sellers, 10,000-plus buyers and more than 3,000 books sold each month.

From 250 to 20,000 pre-loved books

In 2019 Anwar and Karim participated in a Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) led competition, inviting innovative ideas around books and publishing, winning the third position and AED25,000 of seed funding. They decided to use the prize money and personal investment of AED25,000 each from their savings to start Bookends in March 2020.

Bookends launched with an initial repository of 250 books. Cut to the present, it operates as a marketplace facilitating the purchase and sale of pre-loved books, spanning 13 different languages with an online inventory of 20,000 books and over 5,000 titles available in its physical store.

“Having children of our own who like to read, we saw how swiftly they outgrow books and new books often come with a hefty price tag. In addition, maintaining a diverse collection demands considerable space. Many of us have books that we no longer need but these could be treasures for others. We launched Bookends with the simple idea to make books more affordable, encouraging children to read more while minimising their screen time. In essence, Bookends is the go-to destination for booklovers to get a budget-friendly refresh of their bookshelf,” the co-founders observed.

Explaining the business model, they added, “Buyers can effortlessly browse and order through our website, enjoying delivery services across the UAE. While sellers provide us with their books, and we take care of the rest. We post their books on our website, incorporating our service charge on top of their specified price for curation, storage and delivery. Once a sale happens, the sellers accumulate credit with us, which can be redeemed for purchasing other books online.”

So far, 60,000 books rehomed

Asked about some technology centric developments since launch, Anwar and Karim said, “In 2021 we created a proprietary seller and book management system, consolidating all data into a centralised platform. Retrieving any details is just a click away. For buyers, our website provides a fully searchable interface, allowing them to find any book effortlessly by name, author or keyword. To date, we’ve successfully placed over 60,000 books in new homes.”

Another significant milestone for Bookends is the opening of its brick and-mortar space in Dubai Silicon Oasis in 2023. “This bookstore is a reader’s haven, where we host various events including book clubs, game nights, Bookish carnivals, storytelling sessions and much more.”

This homegrown brand’s journey, however, hasn’t been free from challenges. A common challenge that Bookends faces just like any other startup is a small marketing budget making advertising an expensive proposition. Additionally, building awareness to choose used books over new is also difficult as people in this region are used to the traditional way of always buying a new item.

“Having said that, this trend is now changing as more and more people are becoming more environmentally conscious. This change in consumer behaviour aligns well with our goal to encourage reusing pre-loved books as well as help interested people to donate their books to support charities. In fact, we’ve partnered with Thrift for Good and Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services,” the co-founders shared.

Looking ahead, Bookends aims to sell a minimum of 5,000 books monthly, collaborate with more schools to organise book fairs and with more corporate entities to bring reading into their culture. Expansion into other GCC countries is also on the cards following the franchise model.

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