Katha is a three-decade old publishing house and a nonprofit started by Geeta Dharmarajan that has been working towards making fabulous books for children and ensuring that every child gets to read them.
The publishing wing of Katha - KathaKaar, has published many acclaimed translations (Hindi and English) of numerous Indian stories.
Therefore, the books.katha.org project entailed the proper availability of these books for the whole world to buy through the ecomm site.
The team behind this comprised of a developer, a books' sales & strategy consultant, two IT students from Katha's schools in the community and I.
We developed a fun and user-friendly website for parents, schools, and teachers that help them buy Katha books for their children with minimal hassle and gives them the 'Katha Experience'.
Katha's books have stood for affordability, translations and thoughtful stories for decades, with beautiful Indian illustrations (using Indian art forms like Gond, Meenakari etc) to help children learn and get a taste of Indian culture while developing a curiosity for many things.
Once our main site was ready, i.e. www.katha.org to bring in the donations and volunteers, we needed to find a way to best monetize Katha's books online . So, our key challenges were:
Make a robust e-commerce strategy, either through an e-com website of our own or another one like Amazon
List out all 500+ books published by Katha on the website and make it a seamless experience for different personas to buy them
Create a complete digital marketing strategy to get in more buyers on this new platform
Give due limelight to the illustrators and writers behind the book on the site
As a team, we studied what benefits our own books e-comm site will have as compared to listing them on other e-coms
we realised our answer lied in understanding the psyche of our buyers. we therefore created personas who were- school librarians, teachers, parents and people who wanted to gift children book.
once we knew our prospective buyers and we could do our cost-benefit analysis of creating our own site vis-a-vis listing our books on another e-com, we were much clearer about our way forward
our consultant analysed our pricing and its placement in already existing digital platforms. Realised that our own e-com website was our best bet due to already established Katha's brand name
we did a competitive analysis to understand our market and make informed decisions about the new website
we realised we had published 500+ books in the past 30 years and we needed to ensure we had information, latest covers, pricing etc all in place before we developed a site. This was a mammoth task!
Time for some good old design thinking!
We soon realized our online marketing strategy had little or no learning from direct sales strategy, as we were to explore new markets digitally. Our direct sales & marketing team had used traditional means like school libraries and book stores to sell books, and therefore we had to begin from a lot of assumptions!
But as they say, empathy in human centred design is the key to estimate hows and whys.
So we began by understanding our supposed audience, our personas better. And kept iterating till we reached perfection.
With large chunks of multimedia data that was not labeled, our Books' Editor had to first sift through the books and tell us various categories based on age and themes that we could segregate our books in. We realized from our direct sales team that these were the key metrics that led buyers to buy what they did in bookstores.
1. We created our information infrastructure for books based on three things: age group, themes and author/illustrator names. eg: one age group was early childhood (for 2-4 years olds) & themes were 'gender' or 'Indian culture'. Every author/illustrator had a separate page of their own listing books tagged with their names
3. It was very challenging to tag and categorize our children's books as our founder did not want fast learning child to not get a book she liked just because it is tagged for an older child (idealism of nonprofits I tell you!). The site's main functionality was its aggregating ability based on categories (age group wise) or tags (we had put those theme wise) So we were careful with our labels
4. We uploaded all this content via excel sheets and a very helpful WordPress backend in one go.
Although later considerable time went in fixing bugs etc
2. Translating this structure onto a website would have been a challenge but we found a good books e-com theme on WordPress and that helped a lot!
So we could have a low fidelity mockup translate directly as our early prototype!
5. We put a payment gateway and our delivery partner in place and trained an in-house resource (who happened to be a young graduate from Katha's IT school in the community) in coordinating orders and its delivery.
Launch & evaluation
Therefore, books.katha.org leveraged Katha's high demand for books in different parts of the world, and developed usable design, categorisation that was in sync with our digital marketing needs. We had to both launch and evaluate the site simultaneously due to time constrains
We obviously had numerous bugs initially and we had to keep editing and re-tagging our content
We made a seperate section for book reviews and used Google analytics to track our audience. We were happy and surprised to get views and orders from far flung places like Australia and Germany in no time!
Over the course of four months we:
- created our own e-com and with very little investments create demand for books all over the world via our social media campaigns
- book reviews coupled with a robust user journey from start to finish ensured that we had a large returning audience
- internally we trained ourselves in using Google Analytics and Wordpress's Woo commerce statistics to get a sense of our buyers and improve our strategy
All in all, this was a very important learning experience for me to be able to work with a very small team and get this off the ground with frugal initial investments.
I especially learned and enjoyed training Katha's IT students in being able to manage the backend and upload 222+ authors and illustrators bios (apart from 500+ books) along with tagging their books- as we wanted to give them and these pages limelight via our social media channels.
That's where innovation begins right? :)