Rokomari, the country's largest book-focused e-commerce company, has launched an e-book app/platform integrated into its existing app and website. Customers can now buy, download, and read e-books using the Rokomari app and website. Books of all categories, including fiction, non-fiction, Islamic, children's and adolescent, academic, and career, are available in Rokomari's e-book library. As soon as an e-book is purchased online, it will be downloaded to the e-book library of your account. You can then access it anytime, from anywhere. The company says it already has a collection of over 7,000 e-books in its library, and the number is growing every day.
Rokomari e-books come with all the necessary features. The company says the format and platform ensure an excellent reading experience and is highly secure. Readers can change font size, background colors, and other relevant reading settings without affecting their reading experience.
With the breakneck pace of digitization, e-books have seen phenomenal adoption over the years around the world. Market research platform Statista projects that the global revenue in the e-books segment of the media market will continue to increase between 2023 and 2027, and is expected to reach 15.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2027.
Bangladesh has been experiencing a similar trend. With the consistent growth of internet and smartphone penetration and exposure to global culture, there has been a growing sub-culture of e-book consumption.
Despite the rising demand, high-quality e-books of Bangladeshi books are hard to find. It is still a challenge to buy Bangladeshi books in e-book format due to a lack of options. Rokomari's e-book library offers an excellent solution to this challenge. Moreover, e-books can improve the accessibility of books and be an alternative for readers, as printed books are more expensive than e-books.
Rokomari.com has always been an ambitious company. However, the company has so far followed a measured approach to expansion and growth—one of the reasons behind its consistent success over the years. The company has recently made several moves, including expanding into several new categories, such as electronics, gift items, and several other products.
Rokomari has been working on an e-book app for several years. Previously, the company experimented with a separate e-book app called Muthoboi and an in-house e-book format called .rok. However, that experiment did not go far. The company pulled the plug on that project before a public launch in 2018.
However, the e-book has been a priority for the company. They have been working on the problem with a new approach and finally launched an e-book platform and library about six months ago.
This time, instead of launching a standalone app, the company launched more of an e-book feature/platform integrated into the Rokomari mobile and web app. The new e-book library is an integrated system within Rokomari's existing tech platforms—web and app—where you can read digital books. Users can purchase and read e-books both on the Rokomari mobile app as well as on the Rokomari web.
Each e-book has a price. Anyone can purchase e-books by making payments via mobile banking services, or credit/debit cards, get the book on their device, and start reading.
This is a brilliant move for several reasons. It has eliminated all the friction in a master stroke. Users no longer need a separate app to read or download Rokomari e-books. They can do it using their Rokomari app and website.
It provides several advantages to Rokomari. First, distribution. If Rokomari had launched a separate e-book app, as it had planned in the past, it would have had to spend a lot of money on communication to encourage people to download the app. It would have taken a whole different effort to make the app work.
Now that the e-book feature is available with the existing Rokomari app and website, the company can readily reach its huge existing users without spending a penny.
Similarly, for Rokomari users, it makes their lives easier. They can easily use the Rokomari e-book without any additional work. No additional setup is required to download and read an e-book, which means there is little mental inhibition against buying and reading e-books.
At the same time, it improves Rokomari's moat. Rokomari users now have one more reason to download and use the Rokomari mobile app. It also strengthens Rokomari's ability to reach its users more readily. The only risk is the potential future complication of the user experience as Rokomari expands to new verticals.
Rokomari is already seeing the benefits of some of these advantages. Without much promotion or fanfare, the company says it has been seeing steady growth in e-book adoption. People are regularly purchasing and reading e-books, and the number is growing daily.
"E-books have been around for many years now," explains Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, Chairman of OnnoRokom Group, which owns Rokomari. "What we have done is that we have created an e-book reading system within the Rokomari app, where people can buy and read e-books using the app on their Android and Apple devices, on phones and tablets, as well as on the web using their laptops and desktops. We have created an EPUB-type e-book format, where people can change the font and other things and read comfortably. If you change the font, the book rearranges itself without reducing your reading experience."
This is a natural evolution for Rokomari. The company started as a book-first ecommerce company and it remains so to this day. While it has expanded into several new product categories, Rokomari maintains dominance as an online bookseller. The company naturally aims to solidify that position. Getting into the ebook space is one of the few remaining ways to do it.
Rokomari is the largest book-focused e-commerce platform in the country. The company has an excellent hold on the supply chain of books — from publishers to writers to every other stakeholder. It has a growing user base who rely on it for buying all kinds of books. The company has expanded its reach within the book and education segment by entrenching its reach into academic books and also introducing a few other educational initiatives. Ebooks not only solidify its position in the space, but Rokomari is also in the perfect position to exploit the growing demand for digital books.
Second, the world is increasingly turning towards digital content. As we noted earlier, the global ebook market is projected to grow by almost 9% between 2023 and 2027. We are increasingly getting used to the digital lifestyle. In that reality, the wise thing would be to adapt and find a better approach to take advantage of this shift. Rokomari sees this shift and wants to take advantage of it.
Digital books have many other upsides as well. Ebooks are less expensive compared to physical books which can improve access for more people. For people who travel frequently, it is often a challenge to travel with a ton of books. If you have access to digital books, it is easy to read and travel with as many books as you want. Similarly, if you want to read many books and keep many books from where you can choose books based on your mode, it is easier to do it digitally.
People spend a lot of time sitting in traffic in cities like Dhaka. When you have an ebook reading app, you can read when stuck in traffic and save some time. It is useful for people who are serious about reading, students, or someone who reads for fun, you can read conveniently regardless of where you are.
“The idea is how conveniently and cost-efficiently we can make books accessible to more people,” says Mr. Sohag. “It is convenient for users because digital books are much less expensive than physical books.”
For publishers, it also makes sense because now you don’t need to worry about printing and all those other logistics issues. For users, you can access it instantly. If you come across an interesting book or someone suggests a good book, you can instantly buy it.
Similarly, unlike old PDF formats, the reading experience of ebooks is usually excellent. You can easily mark, take notes, search, and customize your reading experience to your taste. Since ebook offers all these benefits, it only makes sense many people prefer ebook. For any prudent company, it is a good decision to follow your customers.
Finally, digital books are accessible to more people. You can access any book from anywhere in the world at almost the same price. While most English language and many other language books are available in ebook format, thanks to companies like Amazon and many others, Bengali language books are not that easily available in ebook format. This makes it a challenge to access popular Bengali books for many people who live abroad.
For instance, Rokomari itself delivers Bangladeshi books to a few places around the world. “In these cases, the delivery charge is a few times the book itself, which makes it difficult for people at times,” says Mr. Sohag. “Now, I think this will open doors for our NBR brothers and sisters who are living outside Bangladesh but want to read Bangla boi, they can access books easily and affordably. Even people in India who read Bangla books can do it more easily and readily.”
But the question may arise, does the rise of ebooks mean physical books are doomed? The simple answer is no. In fact, several statistics suggest physical books are growing in popularity in the West despite an apparent rise in ebook adoption. Mr. Sohag offers his take:
“This however does not mean physical books are going to lose their appeal. I don’t think that’s the right framework to look at it. First of all, books will remain relevant regardless of how digital we become. Second, books are not about the medium, it is about the content and thought. It does not matter whether you are reading it digitally or physically. We don’t think this change warrants a discussion. Before we used to deliver the content via paper, now we’re doing it through devices. The main thing remains the same, it is a change of the mere medium. Once people used to write on papyrus and then we moved to paper. So I think the change is not that dramatic. But it is true that it is easier to maintain your concentration when you are reading a physical book, which is not the case when you are reading on a digital device. But if you consider the convenience, it is highly convenient to read digitally.”
“We have been working on the ebook app for 5-6 years now,” explains Mr. Sohag. “We started building it from scratch and we wanted to build a highly secured system, which took a long time. There was a time when publishers gave up on us because we were taking so long.”
Building a Bangla ebook reading app is a complex endeavor. While there are a few precedence of Bangla ebook apps such as Ridmik’s Boitoi, Rokomari has been trying to build a foolproof system since it deals with sensitive copyright issues. Moreover, designing user experience, deciding which font to choose, and making other user experience decisions are not easy calls.
“Alhamdulillah, after a long struggle, we have been able to launch a smooth product both on the front end and user interface as well as on the backend where you need to process a file and create an ebook from it, there is a huge process which we have also been able to build,” says Mr. Sohag.
The smooth experience of the app and the clever integration with the existing Rokomari infrastructure has helped the company experience excellent growth despite being late in the market. The company says it currently has over 7000 ebooks in its collection and is adding new books every day.
“The way digital technology is moving, our goal is to grow with the technology's progress”, explains Mr. Sohag. “Now we are delivering content through ebooks, and in the future, if technology changes and something else comes up, we hope to evolve as well.”
In the near future, Rokomari plans to launch an ebook subscription service where people will be able to subscribe and read as many books as they want. The company also plans to launch audiobooks as it establishes its ebook service.
“If we can sync both the ebook and the audiobook it can dramatically improve learning. I personally do this,” says Mr. Sohag. “Simply put, we want to do everything to make reading enjoyable, effective, and widely accessible.”
We published our first story on Rokomari’s ebook effort in 2018. It has been already five years. The company has been working on the ebook initiative for more than that. This demonstrates how Rokomari operates as a company and explains everything about it. There are many paths to success. One surefire path is being able to keep trying as long as it takes.
“One of the lessons is that nothing comes easy in the world,” suggests Mr. Sohag. “When we started this project, we thought it would be easy to implement but we had to go through so many internal and external issues that we relearned the age-old lesson that if you want to do something good, it will take a ton of effort.”
On the more practical side of things, the company had to navigate complex copyright issues. There are writers, publishers, and Rokomari, which creates a lot of complexities.
Rokomari says it has been able to solve many of these complexities. “And a few complexities remain unresolved, which also reminds us of my earlier point that nothing comes easy in this world,” Mr. Sohag adds. “But nothing is also impossible if we give enough effort and Allah makes things easy for us. Then everything is easy and everything is possible.”