ABDULLAHI BULLE dabbled in many business ventures before deciding to start an online bookshop in December 2015, at a time when paper books were being replaced by e-books. He founded NuriaStore, an online bookshop in Nairobi that specialises in delivering books to customers not just in Kenya but across Africa and the world. Today, Nuria is one of the most successful bookshops in Kenya, selling more than a thousand books every month. Nuria is also unique in that it offers free sanitary pads to any woman or girl who visits the bookshop in Nairobi’s Moi Avenue. Bulle, a father of two who was born and raised in Wajir, talked to RASNA WARAH about the book industry in Kenya and why books will never go out of fashion.
Q. You started your career in banking but ended up as a bookseller. How did this transition come about?
Yes, as a banker and then a bookseller. Before my banking career, I worked as a cashier at a chemist and then a shopkeeper in Wajir town. At a tender age, my father introduced us to books, though I was not a fan of reading. My reading habits kicked in while I was doing my Master’s in Strategic Management at United States International University (USIU). At the time, I was a banker at Chase Bank while also running side businesses, which unfortunately all failed. I took a break from business and started reading books. I used to source books from local bookshops or by importing them.
Q. Did you start NuriaStore because of your love for reading or did you see a gap in the market that you were trying to fill?
I started this business out of my passion for reading and desire to help others connect with good books. When my colleagues began borrowing my books, I realised there was a need for a service that could help people discover new and exciting reads.
Q. There is a perception in Kenya that Kenyans do not read books, that they stop reading after they are done with school. I was told that Kenyans only like to read religious or self-help books. Yet you manage to sell about 1,000 books a month, or roughly 30 books a day, which is phenomenal. What kind of people are buying the books you are selling and what kinds of books are they reading?
If you’re looking for evidence that Kenyans don’t read, think again. NuriaStore has already delivered books across the country and even to Kenyans living abroad. Our efforts to promote a reading culture are just beginning, and we invite you to join us on this journey. Let’s defy the stereotype that Kenyans don’t read by making reading an integral part of our lives. Give NuriaStore the opportunity to help transform the reading habits of our fellow citizens, and let’s build a vibrant literary community that celebrates the joy of reading.
Q. You are very keen to promote Kenyan writers. In fact, I have to admit that if you did not stock my latest book, Lords of Impunity, few people in the country would have access to it. Many of the big bookshops in Nairobi do not promote local authors. One of them even said to me it was because these books are “slow moving”. Why did you decide to bet on Kenyan authors?
Our vast collection of diverse books is carefully curated to cater to all ages and interest groups. We pride ourselves in providing high-quality recommendations that will make it easy for you to find the perfect read. We believe in the importance of giving Kenyan writers a voice, and our technology is designed to help you do just that. We ask Kenyan writers to take control of their work. Our vendor-dashboard technology empowers you to sell your content and showcase your talents to the world. With our platform, you’ll have the power to promote your work and reach a wider audience.
Q. What is the secret to the success of your online bookstore?
At our bookstore, our success is no secret. We simply take pride in providing our readers with access to high-quality books and bookish content. We believe that every reader deserves the best, and that’s why we make it our mission to provide exceptional service and an unparalleled reading experience.
Q. Do you have any favourite authors? (don’t worry, you don’t have to name me, ha ha).
As a business owner and a parent, I prioritise reading books that help me grow both personally and professionally. I find myself gravitating towards business books to enhance my entrepreneurial skills, while guide books on parenting offer valuable insights on raising my children. I don’t have any favourite authors (ha ha). But I admire and talk about authors who religiously promote their books. Authors who engage their audiences and push their books every week.