Bookworm Papiya Banerjee On Her Journey Of Bringing The Concept Of A Subscription Book Box To India
- IWB Post
- April 12, 2019
Subscription book boxes. A few years ago, these words would have been met with blank stares and if you’d have told someone that every month a box containing books and bookish merchandise can be delivered to their doorstep they would have laughed or if that person was a bookworm, they’d brush it off as wishful thinking.
But now book boxes have been slowly gaining popularity amongst the Indian readers as well and one of the most popular ones is Books N Beyond Box. Papiya Banerjee started this company after she quit her HR job and decided to do something with books.
As mentioned earlier, books boxes weren’t known in India a couple years ago and Papiya really had to struggle to establish this concept as a business when she started two years ago. She says, “It was a very challenging phase and, in fact, it’s challenging right now as well for me. At that time what was of utmost importance was to make others believe that there is something called a book box, and that can work as a business idea. India was lagging hugely behind in terms of book and quality merchandise, specifically merchandise that was based on literary fiction. It was unheard of to have a bookish tapestry, pouch or enamel pin. So it was a huge challenge for me to find vendors and to convince people as to why they needed this product.”
Papiya does not come from a family of business owners so running a business was challenging as well. She didn’t know the ins and outs of the trade and had to research a lot. She spent around 6-8 months after quitting her corporate job to learn everything about running a business. And the first step in establishing her business was to deal with the legal aspects like registering the company, sorting out the documents for taxes, etc. “It has been a roller coaster ride because doing business in India is not easy and it’s definitely not as easy as they make it sound with start-ups. A single woman going ahead and trying to make a business work was very difficult,” she says.
After the legal formalities, Papiya focused on understanding the market. What sort of books do people like to read and what audience group she wanted to cater to. She prefers to read Young Adult and Fantasy books, hence decided to focus on the readers who preferred them as well.
And the next step was to contact the publishers. She says, “Contacting publishers, meeting them, and speaking to them was a challenge but the publishers in India are very sweet and they have been a growing force behind my business.”
As her subscription boxes have a different theme each month, she decides the themes after a lot of consideration. Papiya first requests the publishers to give her Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of the books and she reads them all personally to get a feel of them. She considers books that are popular, in terms of the reviews they’ve gotten. “I do not want to send a book that looks good but the story is bad, people will lose faith in BnB then. The second aspect which is very important is my gut feeling. You’ll laugh at it but I sometimes I just have this feeling that this book is going to work. And if I have a gut feeling about it, it will work. This has always happened with me and if I get a feeling this book is not going to work, no matter what anyone says, it’s not going in my box. I am very finicky and very specific in that regard.”
After finalizing the books, she comes up with the themes as the themes are always based on the books and the merchandise being sent.
Life for her, as a businesswoman, is very hectic and a typical day in her life looks like this. “First of all, know that for a businesswoman there are no timings. I work on weekends, I work on holidays, and I work in the middle of the night. Sometimes I sleep at 10pm, other times I don’t sleep at all. So it is very all very erratic. But I still need to complete my daily tasks so for that, I maintain a diary. On most days my work starts at 10am and goes on till whenever. There is no set time for when I’ll finish. There are publishers to be spoken to, vendors to be met, emails to be answered, Instagram to be done, queries to be answered, etc.”
Managing all of this would have been absolutely impossible for her, were it not for her husband’s help, she says. BnB is comprised of two main things, the first being good books and the other being good illustrations. They manufacture each and every item in their box themselves instead of buying it from retailers, and her husband, Pankaj, deals with the drawings. “I have a lot of talented illustrators working with me, have an amazing team that sends me their work after we talk for hours and when I receive the final design, Pankaj works on it. I would not say that everything is done by me, 50% is done by him as well,” Papiya says.
Interestingly, all of the illustrators Papiya has worked with are women. “Working with women entrepreneurs definitely is a conscious choice. I have made that decision as a woman entrepreneur myself and I love working with these women. I love working with small shop owners, I’ve worked with a number of them and introduced them to my readers because I feel that everyone deserves a chance. Someone gave me a chance when they bought my first box even when they didn’t know me or my work. But there were six people who bought my box. Today I might be selling 500 per month, but they were the first ones to believe in me and I’m still in touch with them. All the international designers I’ve worked with are female. Either God doesn’t send me male illustrators or I only find the women,” she adds, laughingly.