Technology and Writing: The Road Ahead

by Lim Xin Yi, Victoria Junior College

Nikhil Gupta is a degree holder in computer science, the co-founder of the IT services and consultancy company Hipster, a serial entrepreneur (who rolled out his first startup at age 22), and an innovator.

And his list of achievements does not stop there; he plans to continue breaking boundaries by building up a community of readers and writers with the help of an application that he co-created, Barterli.

In his session, Nikhil shared with us about his innovation and how it is a part of a larger technological revolution in the literary community. Through identifying modern mindsets and gaps in our current systems, he and his team created Barterli, an application which not only provides readers with a useful service to exchange, sell, or buy books online, but is also a platform for seasoned and budding writers to share their works and gauge the response of a wide audience.

The idea for Barterli was first conceived when Nikhil realised that there should be a more cost-efficient method of obtaining books that we want to read. He was reluctant to purchase a book, which had been recommended by his friend, because of its high retail price. Although borrowing it from the library was an alternative option, he did not appreciate the stress and inconvenience brought about with the loan. Fortunately, he soon found a more wallet-friendly alternative—an offer for a one-for-one exchange of that very book on a meetup app.

This got Nikhil thinking. “Once you finish (reading) a book it becomes useless (to you),” he pointed out. After identifying the issue, it seemed intuitive for the problem-solver to take up the challenge of addressing it. How could he create a more cost-efficient system to benefit readers?

Through sharing, of course! Barterli works like most online shopping or exchange platforms, such as Carousell, by enabling customers to browse through various listings, make offers, and carry out transactions, be it purchases or exchanges, with another user. However, what makes Barterli different is its attention to detail, including a ISBN scanner which makes it more convenient for sellers to provide product descriptions, and specific tags which help buyers find what they are looking for more easily. Thanks to the widespread usage of similar applications, it was possible for Barteli to take off and address relevant needs with a suitable method.

Yet with the conception of Barterli, Nikhil found himself stuck in another problem which he had not expected. The problem in the public literary scene is not only that people cannot get their hands on books which they want to read, but that people are no longer interested in reading longform texts. Nikhil lamented that “many people (say) that this generation does not read as much as they used to,” and that it absolutely true. Public sharing platforms, such as blogs, social media, and forums, are now more preferred than books because they are more consumable. Although this may be a big plus for us amidst our busy lives, it may present the downfall of inaccurate information dissemination. On public sharing platforms, anybody is entitled to share their opinions, while books are usually only published by professionals, who offer more reliable and precise perspectives.

Furthermore, Nikhil mentioned that even if we were to start reading a book, we would not have the motivation to finish reading it because of the countless alternatives offered in the market. Why strain to read the fine print in a book when we could watch a movie adaptation within a couple of hours or listen to an audiobook while on the move? Applications such as Blinkist, which allows readers to get the gist of over 2000 nonfiction books in less than fifteen minutes each, support those who lead fast-paced lifestyles and want bite-sized pieces of information. As such, perhaps selling physical copies of books has become no longer viable.

This led Nikhil and his team to develop Barterli to help readers and writers connect. Recognizing the need to engage both stakeholders, they wanted to create a professional publishing space.  On the writers’ end, they ensured that the platform’s curated content will maintain the platform’s reputation for high quality works, and that over 80% of the profits earned from the subscription to works will go directly to writers instead of the usual 20-30% offered by publishing companies. On the readers’ end, they constantly kept readers in the loop with concept videos, reminders to read daily, and even summaries for non-fiction books. With these two stakeholders in mind, it is not surprising that the team has been successful in engaging writers and readers alike and garnering the support of the National Book Council.

Nikhil’s sharing was indeed insightful because he reminded us that the changing world is transforming many communities — the literary community being one of them. Whether we like it or not, we must adapt these changes that we face in order to stay competitive and ahead of the game. And this is why Nikhil is worthy of admiration. His passion for the literary scene was the driving factor which pushed him to innovate; he identified a gap in the community and did not hesitate to step forward and bridge it.

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” Nikhil embodies the gist of this quote by Oscar Wilde, which is something we can all learn from. Curiosity and passion fuel our hard work, and we should not waste this fuel by sitting idle and watching from the sidelines, but instead add to the fire and make it grow even brighter to be the beacon of light for our community.