The pandemic has forced everyone in the publishing value chain to find new ways of doing old things. As people are still reluctant to step out in many parts of the country, readers might not be returning to their beloved bookshops in large numbers. In an interesting collaboration, Swiggy, the food delivery platform, and DC Books, Kerala’s largest publishing house and bookstore chain, joined forces some time ago to deliver books to readers across the state.

Same-day delivery of books through a network such as Swiggy’s actually trumps most other platforms, which can take up to a week or more sometimes to deliver books. According to Ravi Deecee, who heads DC Books, 20%-25% of its retail sales have been through this channel Vivek Sunder, COO, Swiggy, spoke to about his company’s venture into book-delivery. Excerpts from the interview:

How did the idea to deliver books via Swiggy occur to you?
Swiggy has been relentlessly working to address consumer pain points due to the pandemic. In the last two months, we have partnered with various businesses and launched new categories such as groceries, meat-shops and wine-shops across select markets to leverage our existing hyperlocal logistics infrastructure in order to reach consumers through quick, safe and effective channels.

Since the pandemic started, people have been encouraged to maintain social distancing as much as possible – so they are always looking for new ways to entertain themselves in their spare time. Books help people relax, destress and gain knowledge. Our recent partnership with DC Books in Kerala solves the need for providing a channel to consumers with added convenience and safety around purchasing books.

The partnership came about when Swiggy’s VP of Supply, Paul Varghese, connected with the team at DC Books in Kottayam during his visit home. Both parties were immediately convinced that Swiggy could create a new business opportunity through books, and the team moved swiftly to launch the category.

What sort of technical challenges did you face? Did the setting up of various systems and mechanisms take a lot of time?
In line with our long-term strategy, we already had a multi-category technology stack in place, which supports not just food delivery but any new category that we expand our services to. This framework has been utilised for the ramped-up expansion of our groceries and essentials delivery services to all Tier 1 & 2 cities, Swiggy Genie (pick up and drop service) to over 60 cities, the wine shops category in three states and now for the books category in Kerala.

The complexity with the books category is the large number of titles and stock keeping unit codes that need to be catalogued. To simplify this process, our partner app offers support with cataloguing and real-time inventory management. Swiggy and DC Books decided to focus on a curated list of titles featuring bestsellers and other popular authors. From a customer standpoint, the team has created a selection that makes it extremely simple to browse titles according to their needs.

How does the service work currently from the perspective of a prospective buyer? Is it as convenient as ordering a meal?
The books category has been enabled on the same Swiggy platform, and placing an order for books is as convenient as ordering a meal. Being a hyperlocal platform, all orders for books will be fulfilled within a two-hour delivery window.

How easy is it to discover new books and authors on the platform? Is it on par with traditional online sellers like Amazon and Flipkart?
We have simplified the navigation and discovery process by using sub-categories and classifications such as selection by language, bestseller tags and authors. As with our other services, we will improve and evolve the category as we better understand consumer needs and behaviour around ordering books on our platform.

How easy is the management of stocks of books? Do books require a different approach than a restaurant, say in metadata additions that books require?
Swiggy has the capability to integrate with the inventory management and point of sale (POS) software available at a book store. This enables us to update the inventory of books on a daily basis showcasing the latest selection available at stores. At this moment, there are over 2,500 titles divided into relevant subcategories such as Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s Books, etc.

How book-buying has changed with Swiggy coming into play
Until and unless the situation demands, people don’t step out of their homes other than for work. People find it convenient to order their favourite books from DC Books through Swiggy. We now see 20-25 percent of our current retail being sold through home delivery mechanisms.

— Ravi Deecee, DC Books

The service is currently available in Kerala. Could you tell us whether there are plans to expand to other parts of the country?
We ventured into the books category first in Kerala with DC Books, which is the largest publishing house and bookstore in the state. Since the category went live, the response has been very positive, and we are excited at the prospect of partnering with other players across the country. Based on customer intent and feedback, we are keen to make this service available to a wider section of customers.

Since the launch of books on Swiggy, Malayalam language books have been outselling English titles by a ratio of 2:1. The top selling genres have been fiction, non-fiction and literature.

What are the safety implications of delivering books compared to food?
We maintain standard safety and hygiene protocols for deliveries across food, groceries and other categories. This includes the “No-contact” delivery option to ensure social distancing for the safety of customers and delivery partners, which is available for all prepaid orders on books as well. Before receiving order requests, every delivery partner must click a selfie wearing a mask and upload it on to the app. The AI-driven technology reads the image and the partner can then proceed to deliver orders.

Is this a pandemic only measure, or can we see Swiggy continue to deliver books after?
We have diversified across categories, and expanded our pick-up and drop to other cities. As part of our long-term strategy, we will continue to invest in avenues where we can provide convenience to consumers and address various consumer need gaps.

Have books emerged as a potential stream of revenue?
Since the category is new, customers are still discovering the benefits of ordering books and other essentials through Swiggy and DC Books.

This series of articles on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on publishing is curated by Kanishka Gupta.