How two Mothers Created the UAE’s First Online Used Bookstore

Grace Karim and Somia Anwar, are the two mompreneurs behind Bookends. Courtesy,

The startup began during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of buying and selling used books on the website.

By Hind Aldah

For Grace Karim and Somia Anwar, it seemed like their children’s appetite for reading was never satisfied. They were constantly finishing up books and keeping up with their reading needs was somewhat of a struggle. The mothers found that buying new books was expensive, and thus the idea of Bookends was born. 

An uncertain beginning

They chose to solve this dilemma by doing something no one has ever done in the United Arab Emirates, opening an online used bookstore. The concept was new and interesting, but for the two mothers, they had doubts. The entrepreneurship started at just about the same time as COVID-19, with lockdown restrictions being implemented.

“With Dubai going on lockdown and encouraging social distancing, many people went back to reading books,” said Anwar, one of two founders of Bookends. 

“We started our business with a lot of hesitation due to Covid, but this turned into an opportunity for us.” 

Fortunately for them, the startup was a success. The idea was initially spread through word of mouth, Anwar told me, and their business picked up traction immediately. With over 200 sellers, they have sold over 40 thousand books in only two years.

Interested in selling your books on Bookends?

The process of selling a book through Bookends requires you to contact them on WhatsApp, where their team will help guide you on becoming a seller. 

Books bought through the site could be resold. This in turn would provide the seller with store credit to buy other books. Customers could reuse books and buy others at a much affordable rate. 

“We have many testimonials from customers on how Bookends has revived their love for reading by offering affordable books,” Anwar said. Buying cheaper and more sustainable books encourages people to read, according to her. 

A sustainable future?

As people start to become more environmentally aware, individuals start to look for sustainable alternatives for their needs. Independent sellers such as Bookends paved the way in this country to buy and sell second-hand books. A handful of other online used bookstores have popped up throughout the years, all serving the same purpose. 

Research done by the National Wildlife Federation indicates that about 600,000 tons of books are disposed in landfills, which is about 0.4% of total municipal waste. 

When buying new books, we don’t think too much about the process that goes behind it. Manufacturing books takes a toll on the environment due to its energy consumption. 

Buying second-hand books, however, results in less than one-fifth of carbon emissions, according to the UK bookstore Hand Me Down Book Club. The books don’t end up in landfills because they are reused and passed from one person to another.

Not only does buying from second-hand bookstores benefit the environment, but it also helps ensure that authors are being paid their fair share of sales. Depending on the publishers’ contract, many authors don’t get paid directly from large bookstore chains. 

An unknown connection 

A short while ago I was browsing the web for an edition of a fantasy series called “The Wheel of Time.” Considered rare nowadays since printing new copies was discontinued, I found a copy of the fourth book in the series on Bookends. I was delighted to know that it cost half the price and the condition of the book was pristine. 

There is a sense of human connection in picking up someone else’s book, knowing it’s been loved by its previous owner. Every fold, every tear, every mark has a story behind it, and I think that carries a special unknown memory for the mind to decide.