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Kenyan website helps readers buy and sell books

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Antony Chege, the owner of bookmart.co.ke.

The book exchange and buying website, bookmart.co.ke, was born out of necessity.

Antony Chege, the owner of the site, remembers his sister trying to buy school books for her children in December last year and complaining about how expensive they were.

She also spent a lot of time moving from bookshop to bookshop looking for some titles. But at the end of the year, she stored them, leaving them to gather dust.

The initial idea behind Mr Chege’s website was to offer parents an avenue to exchange textbooks or buy pre-owned ones at a cheaper price instead of buying new ones.

“Then I thought, why stick just to school books, so I decided to widen my target market to include other genres of books. I knew I would make it possible for people to exchange or sell books to each other at an affordable price,” he says. These include rare titles.

The website, which went live in December 2012, aims to not only make books accessible for Kenyans at lower prices but also promote a reading culture. Its primary target market are parents followed by general book lovers like himself.

“I like reading all genres as so long as it is a page turner and a light read,” he says.

Mr Chege’s background is in marketing and business management. He is keen on coming up with unique ideas for marketing and using IT as a base for implementing them.

This saw the launch of his first website, harusi.co.ke, an online directory for wedding service providers in the country in 2010.

The website’s popularity has continued to grow. With bookmart.co.ke, he had to start by dealing with Kenyans’ poor reading culture. But Mr Chege is confident that his formula to get more people to read will work.

“We want not only to make reading fun but also a worthwhile activity. We are launching book mixing events where members can meet on a weekend every month to socialise as they exchange books and contacts,” he says.

He adds that these events will be taking advantage of the Kenyans’ habit to socialise.

The website allows sellers to post books for sale or exchange at a Sh350 fee per year. One can post up to 50 titles. If someone has more than 50 titles, there is a rate for bulk advertisers mostly applicable to book shops and major book sellers.

When a reader posts his books, anyone looking for that title can contact the person directly to discuss terms of the deal. The service includes an online book club.

Members pay Sh1,000 per year and each month they receive an e-book to read and discuss with other members. They also have an option of three books to vote on every month and the title chosen becomes the book of the month. This should be non-fiction and with an emphasis on personal growth or motivational work.

The first book was Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Mr Chege’s website has evolved to incorporate local writers’ materials which it is publishing as e-books and uploading onto the website.

“With bookmart, it becomes easy for any writer to have his work published at an affordable fee and marketed to millions since e-books can be bought by anyone anywhere in the world unlike hard copies. We have signed up 50 writers whose works we are reviewing and we shall upload them on our e-books section soon,” he says.

The challenge thus far has been trying to convince people to sign up though most admit that it is a great idea. Still, the website has managed to get over 92,000 hits and some people are signing up for the service. They have managed to sign up over 500 people.

This is due to aggressive marketing through social and mainstream print media.

“We are also working with schools so that this venture gets covered in school newsletters and parents get to know about bookmart and its benefits,” he says.

He not only wants to exchange and sell books but also give the members an opportunity to widen their networks.

“Readers are leaders so such people are great to know not just for connections but for intellectual growth,” says Mr Chege.-Business Daily

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