In a unique initiative that may change the way India reads, books would soon be available to nearly 200 million smartphone users at the tap of their devices.
'Juggernaut', the new venture of Chiki Sarkar, former publisher at Penguin Random House India, launched recently, will be powered by audacious strategies harnessing new technology, while still not abandoning the classic printed book, which will continue to be part of its portfolio.
"So the [traditional] book remains very central, especially for our literary and big name authors, and we are being distributed and warehoused by Hachette, a major publisher here with massive reach," she said.
But expect innovations like serialised novels, shorter chapters, appointment reading (what to read at midnight), genre fiction, and other experiments to draw in intensive phone-users who may not be reading anything in the form of a book at the moment.
Sarkar, who believes that "the book is under great threat in India", is hopeful that the new venture will change the way books are read in India.
"There’s the paper book, the e-book, but along with that, there’s life on the phone," said Sarkar. Initially publishing in English and Hindi, the new house hopes to branch out into a new Indian language every year.
E-books, according to publishing industry sources, account for only 7-8 per cent of their revenue.
Launched by Sarkar, Publisher and Founder, Juggernaut will have a CEO in Durga Raghunath, who has come from Network 18, where she founded Firstpost.Com and went on to become CEO of Web 18, thus indicating the digital thrust of the publishing start-up.
It is for the first time that marquee names from corporate India including Infosys co-founder and the man behind the Aadhaar biometric identification project, Nandan Nilekani, Managing director of Fab India William Bissell, and Neeraj Aggarwal, MD of Boston Consulting Group, India, have invested in a publishing house.
"Much of traditional publishing is broken. Commissioning, marketing, sales. It’s an opportunity to build from scratch," said Raghunath.
Juggernaut is betting on a large number of mobile Internet users for the success of the venture. While reading habits in Japan are an inspiration, Sarkar and Raghunath know this readership exists only in theory at the moment.
Sarkar said, "We have managed to attract a whole range of new writers who have come to us solely for the phone, for example – voices from genre writing, entertainment spaces, and those who have already carved an online life for themselves."
Those who have published in the old format are interested too. "Previously published authors and celebrities whom we might naturally put into the physical format are also very excited to have an additional, extremely promising, new life for them that allows them to build their own communities, and market their books in new ways," she said.
Backed by an array of marquee investors, who have already put in Rs 15 crore in the venture, and armed with a novel strategy to create a niche for itself in the publishing industry, Juggernaut is set to roll.