I have been an e-devotee for years. What is an e-devotee? It means I like to read my books and magazines electronically. “Sacrilege!” I hear you say. Please put down the pitchfork and hear me out. Although holding a book in your hand, opening it for the first time and reading it with a cup of coffee by your side is a sensory experience that cannot be topped, e-books have their advantages. First, you can read them on any screen available to you. You can instantly look up the meaning of words you don’t understand. You can change the font size according to your preference. Lastly, that incomparable scent of a paper book is, in reality, the death-scream of several trees forced to give up their lives to generate enough paper for a book.
You are spoilt for choice if you want to read international books and magazines electronically. Apps like Kindle, Kobo, Zinio and others offer convenient portals to satisfy your reading cravings. However, no such platform existed for Urdu books – until Adeeb Online, “the first proper Urdu Digital Library available on iOS, Android and Web platform.” It has changed my world.
Here is an app that is brilliantly designed and hosts an eclectic and growing selection of Urdu literature appropriate for all age groups. Even better, the subscription price for access to hundreds of books is less than what it would cost you to buy five paper books! (Rs 700/month, Rs 2,000/six months and Rs 2,500/12 months). That said, getting us to pay for something like a book, especially in a reading-averse society like ours, is a challenge, and this was the first question I posed to Syed Fasihuddin Ahmed, the founder of this initiative.
“One should bear in mind that Pakistan may be a hub of Urdu connoisseurs, but Urdu lovers span the globe. They are found in Europe, North America and Australia and the subscription model works very well in those markets. There is also a paucity of purchasing power and a reluctance to use credit cards in Pakistan. We plan to increase awareness of the platform first among the overseas target market – they have a higher purchasing power and are familiar with e-book platforms and the subscription model. It will also be beneficial to them since they do not have easy access to books published in the subcontinent. We are also working on increasing payment options.”
The platform is relatively unknown, especially compared to similar products. How does Adeeb Online plan to fix that? Ahmed has big plans.
“We are looking forward to the upcoming book expo in Karachi – based on our last experience there, we foresee a great response. We launched a commercial on social media and that has made us quite busy – we are swamped with requests from publishers and writers to host them on this platform.”
Refreshingly, he is in no hurry. He wants to build the platform organically and sustainably: “Compared to other platforms we are infants. But I have a feeling that we will grow very fast.”
Book launches, especially those linked to TV and other media, as well as periodicals, are big business. Does Adeeb Online plan to tap these options? It turns out that not everyone “gets” the opportunity.
“We held a lot of meetings with publishers initially, and the response was good. But unfortunately, even our local publishers do not wholly support our vision; they are fearful it will affect their conventional books’ business. They are also reluctant to trust us in terms of security of their intellectual property rights. However, some publishers have welcomed this opportunity. We got lucky with Ahmed Safi, the son of the legendary Ibne Safi. He felt our product was perfect to project his father’s works to a new audience”.
“All we need to do is to get a few hundred thousand people to use the app, and then I believe we will become a necessity for writers and publishers.”
Paper books present a lot of environmental and logistical challenges. Why do our publishers not accept that and realise that going electronic could boost their businesses? Ahmed thinks that it is far better to read books in electronic format: “We believe that a digital format offers superior protection against piracy, contrary to popular perception.”
How does Adeeb Online plan to overcome the ultimate challenge: lack of a reading habit in our society? He says this is one of the basic reasons for this initiative. “We are looking at a potential device, or other delivery platforms [akin to Amazon Kindle]; we believe this will become a viable solution once we increase the number of books available on our platform. We will also be able to reach younger audiences through digital delivery. We are exploring working with channels to present programming that introduces Urdu literature to a new audience.”
What support does Adeeb Online need from us? To download the app and provide a review for it on Play Store or App Store.
“There are free books available for you to enjoy. Our subscription fee is very reasonable for the local market; all we need is a few thousand subscribers to bring our plans to fruition.”
We all bemoan that Urdu is not prospering; let us do our share and support this supreme effort. To download the app, click here.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org