There are various types of jobs out there, but the best kind by far, are those that we deem as a ‘labour of love’. Storyloot Sri Lanka is one such labour of love and the brainchild of founder/owner Akhida Saleem Jayamanne. Akhida is a self-professed bookworm, she is also a writer, sustainability enthusiast, globetrotter, and a student physiotherapist. In her own words, she is a “want to do everything, kinda person”. So what exactly is ‘Storyloot’? It is a quarterly book subscription service in Sri Lanka.
When she was younger, Akhida’s home away from home was the public library and her school library. For her, a love for stories and the ability to disappear into them started at a young age. Seeing her love for books, she says she was lucky to have parents who encouraged her to read more by buying her a new book every month; thus extensively growing her own personal library. Fast-forwarding to 2018, Akhida says she ‘discovered’ subscription boxes and fell in love with the idea. From there the idea of creating a box filled with goodies around reading and books took root in her mind, and the rest, as they say, is history. However with all the behind the scenes work that needed to be done, regarding sourcing, setting up business processes, etc. it was actually August 2019; almost a year after the idea began when Storyloot could be shared with the book-loving public of Sri Lanka. Like most small business owners Akhida too says that setting up her business was and is a constant learning curve, where one learns something new every day. She does concede that it’s not an easy process and therefore should be approached with a will of steel along with a lot of commitment and consistency. “What I could say to anyone wanting to start their own business is – even though it’s hard, it adds up to experiences in life which makes it all worthwhile,” she says.
Akhida says starting up a business alone was a challenge, and she soon realised the value of a partner; someone with different thinking and perspectives. So she joined forces with one of her close friends who’s inputs and views she says has made Storyloot that much better. Another challenge Storyloot faces is sourcing new release books, which need to be purchased online and shipped to Sri Lanka, doing this on a set budget is a major challenge that these ladies face. “The reason why we want the new releases to reach our customers is that it’s really difficult to get hold of these books at a bookstore in SL unless people get it shipped directly, which not everyone is able to do. This is one of the gaps we are trying to fill through Storyloot.”
Each box also contains a preloved book, as well as several other goodies. The goodies change from box to box, however, Akhida says that she likes to source unique products from other small business owners as a show of support and solidarity. ‘We rise by lifting each other’ she says. Akhida also says sourcing these items as well as new release books take up most of her time with a lot of calculating and budgeting going into it. However, she says this part of the job is very interesting and she enjoys it very much. “We’ve met some lovely individuals along the way – one lady who provided us with upcycled goodies for a box, drove all the way from Kandy to Colombo (121.3 KM) just to deliver the goodies to us” she recounts. “Most of the time we find these entrepreneurs through our own research or word of mouth, etc. but sometimes they approach us too” she further stated. Sustainability is also a priority for Storyloot, and Akhida tries to ensure each box and its packaging is recyclable and also includes recycled upcycled or recyclable items. The preloved book that each box contains is also a salute to sustainability by Storyloot.
As with most book lovers, Akhida wanted to share the ‘uniquely portable magic’ of books with as many people as she could. She was horrified and saddened she says to discover that most of the younger generation she met didn’t really read, “I felt very sad when most of them didn’t really care to read. Most have got so used to reading mini texts, quotes and captions on social media, so the moment something is a little over the standard word count, they lose interest.” She says that through Storyloot she hoped to “help cultivate a love of reading” among more people. Because of this Storyloot does not have a target audience, though at the moment most of the customers are young-adults. However, Akhida says she is working toward also attracting adult customers too. She is hoping to diversify the books that are offered through the service by growing a diverse client base and vice versa. Through all these challenges Storyloot battles with on a daily basis, Akhida says what motivates them to keep going is “that it’s all for a good cause. We are promoting something good through ‘Storyloot’, which makes the rough patches easier to bear”.
When asked what the most gratifying part of running a book subscription service is, Akhida said it was when ‘Storylooters’ send her photos and videos of their reactions to the books and other goodies in the boxes they receive. Seeing the joy that carefully selected books and goodies brings to another person must truly be an amazing feeling. It is indeed a feel-good factor to see one’s hard work and care being appreciated and enjoyed as one hoped. Akhida says that she also loves hearing from Storyloot followers and customers, especially when they forward ideas and information that would be useful to Storyloot and its future, “it makes you look at things in a completely different light” she says.
Storyloot uses social media platforms Instagram and Facebook for all their communications and marketing, as well as to interact and engage with their customers. “We use the ads on both platforms as well as our ‘stories’. We post something every day, conduct polls and quizzes, etc. to maintain accessibility. We also have giveaways, which everyone seems to love. This has by far been a great way to get the word out and about Storyloot” she said. Even though Storyloot does not have many competitors in the local market, there are a few and there is always the possibility that new competition could come up. As an attempt to stand out from the crowd, Akhida says she hopes that for now, the fact that they include 2 carefully selected books, and 7 carefully sources goodies in each box as well as promoting zero waste, would help them. Like every good business Storyloot too is constantly growing and evolving. Storyloot is also slowly but surely starting to promote local authors and talent. In their first-ever subscription box, they included personalized goodies promoting a local author and her newly released book. They have also been approached by several other local authors, whose work they hope to include in future boxes. There are definitely exciting times ahead for Storyloot and Storylooters.
Akhida also mentions a ‘special edition box’ which they send out in limited quantities from time to time. The last limited edition box was sent out in December 2019, and another one will be coming soon. So stay tuned and follow Storyloot here and here, especially if you are in Sri Lanka.
We wish Storyloot all the very best in its endeavours. Any enterprise promoting the habit of reading must be commended and supported, especially in this day and age. Let’s get young people reading more and spending less time staring mindlessly at various devices.