[App Fridays] Airtel’s new books app is taking on giants like Amazon Kindle, Google Play Books

After several years of ruling the roost, Airtel is no longer India’s leading telecom network. In fact, it is not even the Number 2. Earlier this week, Reliance Jio rolled over it, Vodafone-Idea continues to lead the market. What Airtel is struggling to do with conventional services – voice, messaging, data – it is attempting to compensate with digital content.

Hence, Airtel Books. This is the telco’s latest offering that joins Airtel TV (movies and shows), Wynk Music (audio-streaming service), and Wynk Tube (video-streaming service) in its content portfolio.

Airtel Books launched as an independent app on Android and iOS in early April. In a month, it has recorded more than 100,000 installs on Google Play Store, with a rating of 3.7 out of 5.

There are 70,000 ebooks on offer, including titles from both national and international publishers. More will be added soon, says the company. At present, only English and Hindi books are available. The content library is powered by Juggernaut Books, a Delhi-based startup in which Airtel acquired a stake in 2017.

Airtel Books

Unsurprisingly, Airtel subscribers stand to benefit with a 30-day free trial, and a one-time special access to any five ‘Paid’ titles from the Readers Club – the subscription-led component of the app – that houses a collection of 5,000 ebooks. Subscriptions are available as half-yearly (Rs 129) and yearly (Rs 199) plans. Users can also buy titles on a per-book basis.

The catalogue includes everything from bite-sized stories (5 pages) to full-length fiction and non-fiction titles across genres like crime, love, sex and romance, business, biographies, history and politics, fitness, diet, self-help, spirituality, young adult, and classics.

Several classics including Pride and PrejudiceThe Great GatsbyThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, etc are available for free.

There are curated pages on popular authors and topics like the IPL and the General Elections. All titles can be downloaded for offline reading.

YourStory spent some time on the app.

At the outset, Airtel Books seeks permissions. It wants to “read your phone state” i.e. gain access to your call logs and messages.

This is entirely unnecessary, and the fact that the app makes it mandatory is likely to put off some users.

Airtel Books 1

After you ‘allow’ access, you land on the homepage. You can continue to browse titleswithout logging in, but if you wish to buy and/or read a title, you have to create an account.

An account can be created through a regular mobile number and OTP verification. There are no options for email or social media sign-ups.

Airtel Books

The homepage has a top carousel that lists trending titles, new launches, and current offers. Beneath that, titles are listed under curated collections such as Readers Club Top 100, Best of Fiction, Free Classics, IPL Fever, Crime Dose, Before You Vote, and more.

Airtel Books

You can, of course, skip curations, and scroll down to the Popular Authors and Popular Genres section. There are 10-plus genres to choose from.

Airtel Books

Alternatively, genres can be accessed from the ‘Categories’ tab on the menu bar. Interestingly, Hindi is listed as a category in this section.

Airtel Books

You can also access Hindi books by changing ‘Language Preference’ on the dropdown menu. Here, you can also curate a wish list and access ‘Archived Books’ – a feature you can use if your bookshelf is overflowing.

Airtel Books

If you’re looking for a specific title, you can key in the name on the ‘Search’ bar on top of your screen. You can search for books by title, author or categories.

Searches can be sorted by relevance, prices, and number of pages. You can also apply language and category filters.

Airtel Books

Then there is the Readers Club, which offers unlimited reading access and perks like invites to book launches, author meetings, free writing workshops, and more.

Airtel Books

At present, two subscription plans are available for Readers Club. You can pay through debit/credit cards and top mobile wallets like Paytm, PhonePe, etc.

Airtel Books

Finally, there is the ‘Buzz’ section that aggregates book news from top sources.

Airtel Books

Good idea, but needs better execution

Considering how Airtel’s competitors are strengthening their content portfolios, expanding into ebooks is a good idea. Especially, because neither Vodafone nor Jio have a book offering yet.

The app is Airtel’s attempt to increase stickiness, improve user engagement, and possibly, prevent subscribers from leaving its network. Yes, that’s happening, if latest telecom numbers are to be believed. So, if Airtel get its existing subscriber base of 265 million to get on to the app, that would be a step in the right direction.

But what Airtel Books needs to offer is a better library, more vernacular content, and a seamless reading experience. The app’s 70,000-book catalogue competes with tens of millions of titles on Amazon Kindle, Google Play Books, and other reading apps.

Then, there are consistency issues. Several users pointed out that Readers Club subscriptions aren’t working properly, supposed ‘free’ titles cannot be accessed, and so on.

And, Airtel needs to fix these issues as soon as possible. Because one can almost bet that Jio is waiting in the wings. And surely, our telecom companies would know what a post-Jio world looks like!