A brief journey into the world of founder Nidhi Mishra and co-founder, Archana Mohan.
What is the smell of a book? Bookosmia.
Bookosmia is also a publishing house that aims to promote reading among children, curates writing from youngsters and brings out books for youngsters in both hard and soft copy as well as audio books in varied languages. It was conceived by Nidhi Mishra who pivoted to children’s publishing from a 10-year banking career, post IIM, in 2017. After a fast paced career, she quit as Vice-President of HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) to create something from scratch in a space she was passionate about, making better use of her time and skills. Nidhi teamed up with Archana Mohan two years ago. Mohan had worked as a journalist, corporate blogger and editor working with names like Business Standard, Woman’s Era, Deccan Herald, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Luxury Escapes Magazine. She won the Commonwealth Short Story contest’s ‘Highly Commended Story’ award in 2009.
In this exclusive, Mishra, founder and CEO of Bookosmia, and Mohan, co-founder and head of content, tell us about their journey.
When and how did Bookosmia come about?
NM*: Bookosmia was launched in 2017 as a disruptive children’s content company, hoping to make kids fall in love with reading, writing and everything else around stories. While an already cluttered space in India, children’s content was either always educative, western or inappropriate. No one wanted kids to just enjoy a good story without necessarily helping them in academics or teaching moral values. We wanted to change that.
But what kind of stories do kids really like? What better way than to ask them directly. Hence our key premise that kids are perfectly capable and deserving, of telling their own stories, is the biggest differentiator in the market.
What does Bookosmia do?
NM: Bookosmia is India’s premier writing platform for kids, publishing over 100 original digital stories a month with young writers from lesser known Indian districts like Kiccha, to the bustling metros, from Munich to New Jersey. Bookosmia recently launched its brand persona— a 10 year- old athlete Sara, fondly hailed as “our new best friend” by The Hindu recently. Sara has India’s premier and largest repository of stories for kids, by kids. Additionally she brings a whole host of fun and age appropriate content to kids through digital stories, video stories, audio stories and lots of fun activities for kids for perfect engagement for kids. That is what we offer from a product perspective.
However, we are onto a larger mission– to create a new ‘category’ of kids content, which strongly hinges on a “stories for kids, by kids” philosophy. Children lead their lives with a constant inflow of inputs. Parents, schools, teachers rarely pause to ask them for their original output. How are they feeling?
At Bookosmia, we are different from other content companies and publishers because we have a two-way conversation with our audience. Yes, we have digital and video stories to engage children meaningfully. But we also have the intent to ask them and publish how they are feeling in the lockdown, during a world cup final, after listening to our science stories. We feel making young kids feel valued and heard will help in the following ways:1) They will be able to process their emotions and launch their imagination better, instead of hopping from one activity to another. For example, we love the stories 6-year-olds write to us where animals feel lonely, are behaving badly only because they are looking for a best friend. 2) It will help them boost their self-confidence. A child who feels empowered today will grow up to be a more engaged citizen tomorrow. For example, we have older kids writing to us on issues of racism, taboo around periods, refugee situations and more. 3) It will help children feel more positive, hopeful and raise awareness by evaluating what they can be grateful for. For example, our “Gratitude during Covid” series was a perfect example where even little kids sent us entries recognizing there is a lot to be thankful for, even in these difficult times.
How did you conceive Sarachats?
AM*: At Bookosmia, we take our ‘by kids, for kids’ mantra a little too seriously! This is a company where children call the shots. Our young friends decide the topics they will write on for the month, activities and new features to be added. So, the obvious thought was why not have a young character representing us in all our interactions as a brand? That was when Sara was born.
Sara isn’t a genius, nor does she possess magical powers. She is a curious and happy go lucky kid and every child will identify a bit of themselves in her. With her young friends from across the globe, Sara reads stories by kids, she listens to story tellers, she tells stories to little ones, she does fun activities and she even chats to cool older people to know more about their lives.
To us, Sara is a heart child. She has not one but many mothers! She was designed by the brilliant Parvati Pillai, ex design head of Chumbak. Our chief visual designer Aayushi Yadav has adapted the design fabulously and brought in her trademark humour, enriching Sara’s personality. As for how Sara talks, behaves and the capers she gets into, blame that all on the rest of us!
In a very short span of time, Sara has made quite an impression on our young followers. Everyday, Sara’s inbox is flooded with messages by her friends across the world who love to share their thoughts and wait to hear back from her. For them and for us, Sara has become an inseparable part of our lives.
How many children have responded to Sara chats?
AM: We publish over 100 young writers a month, so the answer is, quite a few! But it’s not just about publishing. Some of our young writers are from lesser privileged backgrounds, so the whole concept of expressing themselves in a medium like the short story, is an alien experience to them. But guess who instantly connects with them and draws them out of their shell– their friend Sara.
Similarly, some of our young writers have great ideas but lack proficiency in English and it is Sara who writes to them regularly encouraging them to put their thoughts into words without being boggled by vocabulary. We believe that every child has a story to tell and our global platform through a much-loved ambassador like Sara gives children an opportunity to express themselves and feel heard in a safe and non-judgemental space. From writing about their dreams, their family to topics like periods, disability, grief to bullying, our young writers are unafraid to write about subjects that move them. To say their refreshing optimism and understanding of the world stuns us, would be an understatement.
What made you think of the icon of Sara?
AM: Our girl Sara, is a stereotype buster. She is the answer to generalisations like “all girls like pink” and “sport is for boys”. Sure, she is notorious for breaking a windowpane or two with her football, but she is no different from any other girl in the world. She represents every child who gets picked on for ‘being different’, for daring to think out of the box and for questioning norms that don’t make sense to them. Does loving sport instead of playing house make her any lesser of a girl? Absolutely not. And that’s the message Sara brings to every child of the world. You are you. Don’t feel pressurised to change just because you don’t fit into someone else’s mould.
Is this a voluntary organization?
NM: No, Bookosmia is a for profit private limited company.
Tell us how Ms Sara serviced children across borders through the trying times of COVID.
AM : Like we always say, it is the kids who drive this company and so it should come as no surprise that our much lauded ‘Gratitude During Covid’ series was conceived out of children’s conversations with Sara where they spoke about how their lives had changed post Covid. While most adults chose to binge watch during the lockdown, children from far flung corners of the country and even abroad, took up on our call to write essays, poems and short stories about ‘gratitude’, exhibiting an incredible amount of maturity in handling an unprecedented situation.
And what delightful takes they had! While the younger ones were thankful for the cleaner air, food on the table and more time with their families, the teenagers wrote about how they had become conscious of their privilege, developed empathy for their domestic help and learnt to go ‘within’.
As a company, we felt validated. Clearly, by engaging with them meaningfully, we had been able to make children feel valued.
Are you still into bringing out books online? Or has it suffered from the pandemic too? Has the pandemic affected Bookosmia?
NM: Yes, the pandemic has affected Bookosmia, but only for the better. We have doubled our audience every month and it only speaks of the strong need that exists for safe, meaningful yet fun screen time for kids .We like to think of ourselves as the intersection of a parent’s need ( to keep their child meaningfully engaged) and a child’s want (to find relatable content).
We publish 4 free digital stories, written by kids, on our website everyday. Yes, we are releasing fewer online paid ebooks but that is mainly because our focus right now, through these tough times, is to make our free content available to as many kids as possible and build a community.
What are your future plans for both Bookosmia and Ms Sara?
NM: In question two, I touched upon our intent to create a new “category” of kids content. A few years back I used to be very judgemental of the new generation of teens. Always on social media, gunning for more likes and comments, with dwindling attention spans and enormous need for approval. Over the years, I have realized the problem was not in that generation but in the world we have created for them. Yes, they are active on Facebook and Instagram and snapchat, but which other platforms value them. We have to give these young minds a platform where they feel safe speaking up, sharing their views and stories, not afraid of being dismissed with a ‘too young’ tag.
Yes we have some excellent writers who share their stories with us. And it can be expected that children can create content(stories/ essays/ poems) that other kids will like more. Purely because it is first hand and organic. But we are not looking to churn out great authors, we are looking to make young voices feel valued.
Sara has found great relatability with children. She looks, talks and thinks like them. They have a lot less inhibition in writing to her than they would to a publishing house. We want Sara to take these stories from kids, far and wide across the globe and not be tied down to a particular country. Like any other kid, Sara is also upto a lot of things. Good at some, like sports and curious about others like Science, Art or Nature. So you will see Sara introducing kids to a whole range of topics and not limit herself to reading and writing. Also conscious that there is nothing more joyful than holding your beloved characters in your hand, Sara may soon be seen in a physical format.
*NM : Nidhi Mishra, Founder and CEO of Bookosmia.
This article was first published in the Borderless Journal and as it is specific to Bookosmia, we are sharing it here. We shall be forever grateful to these fantastic platforms for including my voice.
Nidhi is Founder & CEO of Bookosmia (smell of books) – India’s No.1 publisher of content ‘for kid, by kids’ from 140+ locations worldwide. An ex-banker who pivoted from a 10 year banking career to disrupt a traditional publishing industry, Nidhi attributes her love for literature and culture to growing up in Lucknow , her feminist flair and an Honours in Mathematics to Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and an MBA and her husband to IIM Lucknow. After a decade-long career in the financial sector, finally quitting as VP, HSBC as she suffers from a (misplaced) sense of satisfaction and a drive to do something meaningful with her time. She has been on the editorial board of the international journal Borderless, is a neurodiversity ally and mental health advocate for adolescents. Outside of Bookosmia, Nidhi spends much of her time overindulging her two beautiful daughters, organizing dastangoi/mehfils and co-hosting a podcast with authors,called Traveling Time with Books on Audible, Spotify etc.You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org