This article appeared in the New Indian Express on May 22, 2010.
LIKE NETFLIX FOR COMICS
Leaping Windows, India’s first ever online rental service for comics and graphic novels is all set to launch on May 22. For the Indian comics industry, active since the ’60s, Leaping Windows might prove to be an important tool for cataloging and collecting copies- something that has never been attempted at the public level before. Consider this: there are about two dozen comics companies currently in business in India and an average of 100 million copies are sold per year. Yet, a cursory glance at local libraries and bookstores offer no evidence of these staggering numbers.
The brainchild of Koel Chatterjee and Bidisha Basu, Leaping Windows focuses on cataloging comics and graphic novels while making printed comics accessible and affordable to the public.
“Comics are really expensive,” Bidisha says. “So the point of the library is to give people a wider choice and at a cheaper rate.” For Utsa Shome, business partner and friend of Bidisha and Koel, the concept of a comics library struck home. “We have a lot of readers in India and there’s been a lot of buzz about the comics scene,” he says. “So, it made complete sense to do this. Something like this, a library, should have already been in place.”
Currently, the library boasts 1300 titles-Indian and foreign, with 700 more still in the mail. “A fraction of the comics in the library are from our own personal collections,” Bidisha says. Most comic geeks will cringe at the idea of letting anyone borrow their precious copies. “Books getting lost or not returned is one of our biggest fears,” Bidisha confesses. “Most of these books are expensive; some we ordered off amazon.com – so yeah, we worry about that. But that’s one of the reasons we have the three-months minimum membership plan.”
A three-month membership to Leaping Windows costs Rs.1500, plus Rs. 500 refundable security deposit. A reasonable rate given that members can peruse the expanding collection online and borrow a book as many times as they choose. Their business model is inspired by Netflix- the online DVD rental service that took America by storm. Unlike Netflix, which sends their DVDs through the mail, Leaping Windows employs a small team of delivery boys who will deliver and pick up comics from your door step.
While Netflix, a purely commercial venture, adopted its model to combat competition, the folks at Leaping Windows are refreshingly unconcerned with the market. “We really don’t know if we’re going to get a very large membership,” Bidisha says. “It’s also entirely self-financed so obviously we’d like to recoup our investments but if we don’t…. well, at least we tried!”
There is also a community aspect to Leaping Windows. Bidisha hopes to create a free platform open to the public on their website where people can set up links to their own works or simply chat about comics. Once launched, www.leapingwindows.com will showcase the collection of books for members to peruse. Leaping Windows does not yet have a physical presence in Mumbai but will launch as a purely online comics rental service. “We’d love to have an actual library space where people can browse books but right now it’s not in our budget,” Bidisha says. “Maybe someday, though,” she adds.