The 1000 billion book market and us
Majid Ghasemi is cofounder of Fidibo. He is 33 years old but it seems as if he has 50-year experience; he has launched the first e-book platform although he didn’t know even the meaning of this term.
He has even traveled to India to have this platform and spent 13000 dollars to buy it. Now Fidibo for which he wanted to sell his car, has 200 million toman income each month and more than 60000 books are included in this platform.
His team is consisted of more than 40 members, more than 400 publishers work with him and he has DigiKala as the main shareholder.
He wants to become the kindle of DigiKala and number one in middle east in two years. He has talked about his business, the market of publication and books in Iran and that he wanted to have 10 percent share of the market.
With little experience in the field of E-magazines, what was the image of E-book in your mind at first?
Site designer and I didn’t have any knowledge about it. Hadi Abedini, as site designer, and I studied Wikipedia to know about standard format of E-book and I can remember those days.
Do you want to say that the only option you had was searching the internet in order to get information about this field and its terms?
Yes and we met an Indian company in the internet that designed the platform we wanted. Thus we decided to work with them.
The Indian company agreed to deliver the platform two months later. The price they proposed was more than 13000 dollars which was paid by the investor and we were glad that we would launch the first E-book platform in Iran. I went to India and delivered the initial platform and came back to Iran.
You suffered much before you came back to Iran and launched the project; when did Fidibo get started?
When I received the product, I came back to Iran. Our site wasn’t launched and we were to launch the product in the next three months.
But Hadi Abedini called me and said that we had traffic on the server and asked me if we had started the work. We have online users on the server.
While we had written that we would come soon and its link would be connected to our site. But we didn’t know that Google was indexing us and if we had a book on the site and a person searched it, he would find it.
On the other hand, our software was put on App Store and maybe these things had caused us to have users without launching the product.
The Good news was that Alireza Majidi, site admin of “Yek Pezeshk” had seen Fidibo in App Store and sent a post in his site says “Persian E-book isn’t a dream any longer”.
This site was very popular those days and thus may people had seen it and become curious. Thus the service got launched inadvertently.
The most important connection aspect of Fidibo is publishers. How does it cooperate with them?
We have different departments in Fidibo. One of them is department of contract with publishers in which we convert their books into E-books in Fidibo under a contract and then the books would be controlled based on their quality and uploaded on different platforms.
Does all the process of converting a book into electronic version is done in Fidibo?
All books in Fidibo are being converted and their electronic version is produced but the whole process of book production in paper version is done by the publisher.
How is the process of producing electronic version done in Fidibo?
Let me not to talk about it because this is important for our competitors and even I can’t mention the number of people who do this. Because it shows to what extent this process is done technically or manually.
Do you mean that you have a special technology for producing E-book that your competitors don’t have?
Yes and this technology is produced in Fidibo for 100% and when we run it, it doesn’t run on Microsoft and it runs on Fidibo. So let me no to explain more because it’s confidential!
How many people are in Fidibo team?
About 48 people.
How many publishers do Fidibo work with right now?
About 400 publishers.
Why do you work with only 400 publishers?
Because these 400 publishers have more than 90 percent of book market.
How many books are there in Fidibo right now?
About 12000 books are published in Fidibo and what have produced and would be published soon are about 60.000 books.
Do you have a figure about the number of books sold in Fidibo?
I can’t mention this figure because it is about our business.
At least tell us the number of people who have downloaded Fidibo software?
More than 1,200,000 people.
How much has been your growth rate?
Last year Fidibo has experienced about 720 percent growth.
Is there a book that publishers don’t print it at all and give it to Fidibo directly?
I can say that there are publishers who put the book in Fidibo first because of the high costs in book market and uncertainty about the amount of sales.
Then they determine the number of books to be printed based on the feedback; that is the more people welcome it, the higher the number of books that are to be printed.
To what extent does Fidibo stand against the traditional part of publication?
But you sell E-books that have lower price and it is possible that this field affects the whole field of traditional publication?
If no one buys book from Fidibo, it doesn’t mean that for example he would go to the center of book stores in Tehran and buys the printed version of that book.
In fact we focus on that category of customers who don’t buy printed books at all and if they don’t buy from Fidibo, that money wouldn’t enter publication industry.
According to the fact that E-book is new in Iran and we don’t have much experience in this field, maybe we can’t answer to the question about the effect of such phenomenon on publication and traditional field with certainty. On the other hand, you work with publishers. Haven’t you had any concerns about this so far? What were the results this field had in the world?
I can mention a figure that Forbes published in 2013 about E-book market in North America which is a grown-up field in this part of the world.
The topic of this report was your question that how E-book development affects traditional publication market? The results was weird because it showed that E-book development resulted in increase of GMB in publication industry.
That is the total amount of money spent on books after increase of E-books, had been grown thus publication industry has been wider. We explain these reports to the publishers.
Do you mean that businesses like Fidibo can affect the increase of book sales which is experiencing a large loss in recent years and expand the culture of reading books?
Based on the report I mentioned before, three categories of new customers are added to publication industry by E-books.
The first category are customers who don’t buy paper books but are fans of technology and know electronic world, when E-books are offered, they have bought electronic versions while they bought books before, the second category are those who loved books but they didn’t have access to books.
Thus when E-books came to the market, they buy E-books as well as paper books and spend much money.
The third category is related to buyers who read books, don’t have the problem of access to books but buy both paper and electronic version of books.
Because they buy paper books in every situation and have added E-books to the basket because of its low cost. Even Iranian publishers tell us that they have customers who wanted to but paper version of books because they have read a book or a part of it in Fidibo.
How is the Fidibo and publishers’ share from book sales calculated?
Depending on the works done, 30 to 40 percent of each book copy reached to Fidibo.
Do you have a figure about the number of copies sold in Fidibo?
Talking about these figures is dangerous for us.
You use technology in the field of culture and book field and because of the non-positive approach of people towards it, your business would face some risks. It seems that you have entered this field optimistically.
I should say that I don’t agree that our people don’t read books. We have publisher in Iran that gain more than one billion tomans from selling only one book; not in Fidibo but in traditional publication market.
So you don’t think that the reason some books sell only 100 or 200 copies is not due to the fact that there isn’t any reader?
I believe that our people read books but they read books that have high quality content. We should consider the low level of book sales as the result of book content.
I saw a book several days ago a part of which was translated from the source book by a translator and he has said that he translated to the extent he wanted and the publisher had printed it with that condition.
This is an insult to the audience and publication industry. Such a book doesn’t sell 500 copies but why a book like “Mellat e Eshgh” sells 100,000 copies in a year?
These people who are accused of not reading books have welcomed this book. Thus a book should have high quality content and professional marketing to be sold.
We have publishers in publication market who sell very well and have good financial situation because they respect the reader and don’t publish any content.
Or 10 years ago when newspaper had better content, they were sold well. Are people changed? No, in fact content degradation has made readers run away.
What does Fidibo do for the quality and content?
The most important thing that Fidibo does is watching readers’ interest and trying to provide high quality content.
For example, when the last volume of Harry Potter came to market, we translated it with cooperation of an internet group and it was offered to the market. More than 35.000 people downloaded it from Fidibo in less than 4 days because the book had a good content.
We are facing a market named book print and publication market in Iran. When we talk about Iran publication market, what figures do we mean? For example is there a statistics that shows the turnover of this market in a year?
There isn’t an exact statistics in this field. You can’t enter a market without knowing how big or small it is. This isn’t compatible with the spirit of startup that you don’t examine the market.
There is a statistics that says the size of Iran publication market is 1000 billion tomans per year. Albeit, public subsidies and book fair vouchers are also considered in this figure.
How much of this figure is related to e-books?
The share of e-books is very small right now.
What do you mean by very small?
I can say it is less than 10 percent.
Do you mean that 100 billion of 1000 billion is for e-books?
No! No! Less than that! Maybe all the e-books have about 2 percent of the whole market.
You have reduced it from 10 to 2 percent, maybe it is because you don’t want to mention the incomes?
No! No! 2 percent is true because electronics has come to the market recently and its share is very small!
Which serious platforms are in this market other than you?
Taghche platform works in this field.
Is it your competitor?
Not much. Our main competitor is Amazon that has entered Middle East market by buying Souq internet store from UAE and can make us worry.
So is this possible that Amazon makes the arrangements to cooperate with Iran publishers while present in the Middle East and for example a part of customers who can buy books from Fidibo, move towards Amazon?
I don’t think that this happens but we want to play in their ground by preventive measures.
Do you have a special strategy for confronting Amazon?
International publication would be offered on Fidibo soon and thus you can buy books bought from Amazon in Fidibo as well.
Also, we are launching offices in other countries and some offices are already launched in countries like Lebanon.
Do you want to compete with Amazon?
Yes and I think we can challenge them!
Maybe with the backing of DigiKala?
Yes, exactly. The most important reason that we are happy with our cooperation with DigiKala is that we work with a big and successful business which paves the way for the success of Fidibo because it has many facilities and we can take big steps through their back up.
Has DigiKala bought Fidibo?
DigiKala isn’t the owner of all shares in Fidibo but it is the main shareholder.
When DigiKala buys a big part of Fidibo shares, this question rises that why does DigiKala that is known for its mobile and tablet, buy a cultural product like Fidibo?
Jeff Bezos is asked about the reason for his success. He says 50 percent chance and 50 percent the right position of stars in the sky and then the engineers I have in Amazon.
I think good events come after work and it completes efforts and I believe that good things happen for those who make effort and Fidibo attracted DigiKala attention because of its efforts and this is a good thing for Fidibo.
Let me ask it from a different angle; how does DigiKala cooperation with Fidibo help you?
One aspect is related to investment. Although when DigiKala cooperated with Fidibo, we didn’t have financial problems but technical aspect and international experience sharing was more important for Fidibo.
this paves the way for Fidibo to enter international market and important things would happen for Fidibo all of which are because of its cooperation with DigiKala. In fact, Fidibo is going to play a role for Digikala that Kindle plays for Amazon
Does Fidibo think that it should be with DigiKala to attend global league?
Yes, because we wanted to expand our business but didn’t have international experience.
That was found in DigiKala; because they have worked in big scales and have better and more advanced business models with higher figures and Fidibo can make use of these blessings.
Most importantly, their art is working with big figures; figures that can work at global level. Even our organizational space has been upgraded and our outlook to business development has been grown.
I faced with crisis during past years and became a founder who was going to fail but a call from DigiKala saved me.
Because we felt that we were stronger and could make bigger decisions; so far that we thought if we weren’t in DigiKala, we would be satisfied with ourselves better but when we compare our figures with DigiKala family and its fields, we see that we are very small and we should work harder to become big.
Doesn’t this cooperation take innovation away from Majid Ghasemi?
Not at all and I can say that I make decision for all issues in Fidibo from 0 to 100. This space is shaped because our investor isn’t an investment company but an entrepreneur who understands the concerns of another entrepreneur and offers him the necessary space.
Here there is a kind of contradiction. DigiKala is one of the leaders in Iran Online field and its income is billions of tomans. Now does it look at Fidibo as a source of income or is buying a big part of startup share in book field a kind of social responsibility for DigiKala? The same way that it entered handcrafts field before.
Maybe it looks at it as a social responsibility as well and they can answer this question better. But I think they look at Fidibo as a source of income and a part of their business too; because DigiKala wants to supplies the need of all its customers.
And one of the most important parts of its similar sample that is Amazon, is selling e-books. Thus Fidibo is more than a social responsibility for DigiKala.
Maybe this cooperation causes the traditional part of publication industry think that Fidibo would grow very well and thus it may affect the whole print field. Do you think it is possible that e-book growth would remove or at least make limitations for traditional publication?
Experience gained in other countries and for example North America in the field of producing e-books shows that this wouldn’t happen.
Maybe it hasn’t happened yet but these businesses are young and in near future we would see books in the market that only have electronic version and there wouldn’t be printed versions?
Maybe it happens.
In this case, don’t you think that traditional body of the market would rise against those like Fidibo?
Anyway, each publisher and everyone in this field should consider these issues. Technology hasn’t entered only in book field.
In fact it affects all aspects of people lives and we should look for solutions and new ways rather than confronting it.
Albeit our publishers should know that they don’t sell paper and their business is introducing good books, authors and translators whose works are being sold very well and it doesn’t matter whether they are provided in electronic or paper versions.
Thus publisher’s market doesn’t become limited with e-books; in fact they would boom as well.
Maybe the biggest fear of a publisher is that each author can work directly with Fidibo and there isn’t any need for a publisher and his role would be removed from publication industry if these businesses like Fidibo grow. Do you have a part for authors without publishers in Fidibo?
We have moved towards this way with considerations because we believe that we should protect publishers.
Because we believe in the role a publisher plays; the publisher helps the correct and exact growth of this field alongside the money it gains; in terms of identifying authors and valid works and in terms of quality of books.
But if a startup put the basis of its business on direct cooperation with authors, it would definitely have effects?
In this case publishers would look at it as a threat and they wouldn’t work with it.
Wouldn’t Fidibo publish paper version of books?
Because the management of paper version of book in DigiKala is in the hands of Fidibo, it doesn’t do that with Fidibo brand and would do it under the brand of DigiKala.
Let us talk about publication and Fidibo business in more details. How many publishers are there in Tehran?
About 1000 publishers.
Which books are most selling books in Fidibo?
Novels are sold more. For example, we had a novel from which 900 copies had been sold only in Friday.
How much is the average price of books in Fidibo?
Can people request a book in Fidibo? That is, a book which isn’t in Fidibo and the buyer want Fidibo to provide it.
Yes, this is possible and each week there are up to 7000 requests submitted for different books in Fidibo.
What is your most selling book?
It was a book in the field of individual order.
How much did it sell?
If I mention a figure, it would show the figures of our business.
Our aim to ask these questions is that dimensions of e-book market become clearer for those who are interested in this field.
I just can mention that in some months we sold up to 3000 copies of this book.
We are eager to know that what image did Majid Ghasemi have of initial capital for launching his business; where did he supply the capital from?
I had a car (206) that cost up to 7 million tomans and I wanted to sell it. At that time Fidibo capital was 30 million tomans; Firoozan gave me 30 million tomans for launching the project. I didn’t buy my car and have it now.
You have sold the major part of Fidibo shares to DigiKala right now. How much was the value of this major part?
I can’t talk about this figure but I can say that Fidibo is a business whose monthly costs is up to 200 million tomans right now.
What image has Fidibo imagined for its future? For example we consider the turnover of Iran publication market per year up to 1000 billion tomans as you said, how much of this figure does Fidibo want to reach?
We hope to have 10 percent share of this market.
Is it your ultimate wish for Fidibo?
In fact we want to become the number one in Middle East in two years which isn’t difficult at all and is reachable. Our only problem is efficient human resource that can help us.
Every founder that I talk to, have this problem. Why couldn’t an ecosystem that is almost 10 years old, train many professional human forces?
Because in Iran all people want to have their own business and make their own story. We shouldn’t think about having one thousand successful stories but we can make successful stories with each other.
But right now all people want to start on their own and have 100 percent of a business and become a celebrity. This is a kind of syndrome which exists in the ecosystem and maybe it would become better at time goes by.
Because now we face lack of reality in the ecosystem that would be more visible in the next two years and people would realize that they have wasted their lives and money. While if they worked with each other, they could become successful.
Lack of reality or being unreal; do you mean that there is a kind of bubble in the ecosystem?
Yes. It may not be called bubble but it is clear that current imaginations in the ecosystem aren’t in accordance with the reality in the society and business space.
Nowadays everyone wants to be successful within less than one year. Look at LinkedIn. You will see that we don’t have IOS developers as many as we have founders.
Thus I say if a person wants to enter the field of books, for example, he should talk about his ideas with activists in the field and cooperate with them.
During past days, we have added a man with ideas to Fidibo who adds to the value of our team and we are sure that during 1396 his income would be more than 80 percent of that of founders in the ecosystem.
Thus doesn’t Majid Ghasemi recommend the presence in book market?
Honestly no! Because if a person wants to start just like Fidibo right now, I think he would have a slow and full of trouble process.
But we have launched a section in Fidibo in which people with ideas and those who want to enter the field of books and launch a startup can cooperate with Fidibo.
For example, we have launched a big section in the field of Audio and have done a big investment in this field.
In fact instead of removing audio books, Fidibo works with people with ideas and offers them the required capital. I think Shanbeh can have an effective role in promoting culture of team work.
What is your expectation from Shanbeh?
Shanbeh as the media of the ecosystem that is read by many people in this field, can have an effective role in different aspects and I like to point to three things.
First one is morality and promoting human behavior in this field, that is making those who observe humanity prominent and don’t see everything as big numbers and figures.
The second one is to promote team work. Now we don’t have a business that works internationally because we don’t have big teams so that they can do such works and it is the result of lack of team work spirit in Iran and lack of professional human resource.
In other words, we teach people that they don’t have to be successful in all aspects and levels if they want to succeed, in fact they can be a part of this success.
The more successful Fidibo becomes, my role becomes less in it because other people are added to it or for example it is beside DigiKala.
The third point is that it should emphasize on communication and behavior skills of human resource in the ecosystem.
Majid Ghasemi is born in 1363 in Mashhad; his mother is from Yazd and his father is from Tehran. He has studied mathematics at high school and got his BS from Gilan University in the major of mechanic engineering.
He also received his MA from The University of Tehran in the field of Western Philosophy. He says he has always worked.
During studying at university, he had a site named FarhangKhan in which he shared cultural links. Majid’s story had tied with many stories; from working as a worker in LalehZar to selling in stores at Jomhoori Street.
Majid says he has worked as far as he remembers. During high school, he worked in electronics warehouse and he was a vendor in a toy shop in Jomhouri street in Tehran.
He even knew how to wire buildings when he went to elementary school because of his father’s job. According to the culture of his family, the one who works is more valuable and happy because they didn’t have financial problems but he preferred to work.
He was even the worker of a store in Lalehzar that sold wiring equipment. He also taught math and physics.
He printed cards when he was at elementary school and gave them to semi-detached building so that they call him at the time of wiring. He also got low consumption lamps for electric stores from LalehZar and sold them…
In 1380 when he was at the third grade in high school, he took the project for wiring a school in DehVanak. He worked on it for a month and earned 500.000 tomans.
A big event happened for him with this amount of money and he bought a computer; the one that is still in his office. This computer caused him to become more informed of digital world and the story of making home phone busy all day and dial-up internet and family objections began…
Majid says he read many books: “I read serious books and attended book fair.” He finally decided to launch a blog; a blog named Philnama.
Phil is derived from Philosophy and Nama has its ordinary meaning. He had placed the link for internet content in this blog: “it was something like the highest.
I didn’t even think that it is possible to make money from Internet and all my inspiration was comments that users wrote for me and I became excited when I read them.”
In about 1384, he launched Farhangkhan site. He worked with Peling which was a link sharing platform. Ghasemi had an electronic magazine as well and worked in public relation sector of AmirKabir publication.
He got married and thus he had to find a way to make money and he wanted to leave Iran as well.
When he was trying to get applied to leave Iran, a phone call dissuaded him: “I wanted to continue my study outside Iran but in 29 Esfand my phone rang and a man named Mehdi Firouzan introduced himself and said he was CEO of Book City.
They had a project and because they had heard that I worked in the field of books and knew IT, they wanted to meet me. At that time, about the year 1391, they wanted to launch online Book City and asked me to work with them.”
After one year working in online Book City, he decided to launch Ebook. He referred to Firouzan to say goodbye: “I told Mehdi Firouzan that I wanted to sell my car and invested on my new project.
My car was a 206 model 82 and its price was about 7 million tomans.” But Firouzan became interested to invest on Majid’s project. The beginning of this cooperation led to significant experiences; experiences that took Majid to India.
Majid says: “at that time when I was launching Ebook, I didn’t even know that I was launching a startup. We had to have a platform for electronic books to launch this business.
But I didn’t have any information about the technical side of the work and in Iran no one knew about this field. I called Alireza Ghezelbash to launch the site.
Alireza introduced Hadi Abedini to me so that he design the site.” He even told Hadi that these sites didn’t make money. Ghasemi says about the meaning of Fidibo:
“in order to choose the name, I got Fi from Firouzan, Di from Digital and Bo from Book; Firouzan Digital Book. I have selected this name to pay homage to the cofounder and his supports.”
I sat in street and cried!
The Indian company was to deliver the platform within two months but after one year and two months and although we had paid the big part of the money, they hadn’t given it to us.
We had run out of money. We had spent the money of investor. We had a small team that produced books but the platform wasn’t ready. We didn’t have other jobs or incomes and my wife paid the cost of living those days.
Traveling to India to get the platform
In late 1391, I thought that I had to talk to them face to face. Because they had told me their product was what they had delivered to us.
In fact they had put a design on their site which didn’t become a product and I had made a mistake and thought that they produced such a product.
While they had just put a screenshot of a design on their site so that when a costumer wanted it, they developed the design and produced it; in other words, they didn’t have any product and I made a mistake because lack of experience.
On the other hand, they couldn’t design and produce what we wanted and they had gotten all the money. I went to India without enough money and I even ate cookies some nights.
In India they told me that they couldn’t produce the product I wanted at all and I remembered that I sat in the street desperately and cried. I was to stay for two or three days but I stayed there for 10 days because I was ashamed of coming back.
This company was in the suburbs of Chnai and I sat in the street while the cows were passing by me and I cried.
I was living with lizards
I called my wife and asked her to call the travel agency and tell them that I wanted to stay some more days. I stayed in a very cheap place and lived with three lizards.
When I entered the room, I counted them to make sure that they weren’t in my clothes. But my wife told me something that made me hopeful;
If it was an easy job, other people would do it before and maybe these difficulties indicate that your efforts would have good results. Her saying made me hopeful.
I went to the company with rumble. Their boss came to me and asked me what happened. I told him my problem and asked him to give me their development team for seven days so that I told them what I wanted and they designed the product.
Thus I messed up the work hours of workers who worked one time and eat on time; I called Tehran and through Skype connection with three persons in Tehran and with cooperation of the Indian team, the initial product was designed;
A product that had many weaknesses but it worked and was the first Persian book reader. It had Android, IOS and Windows versions and I think my perseverance worked. Because I was drowning and thus I did everything to survive.