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August 17, 2017

Founder Chiki Sarkar On Changing How Books Are Read, Written And Purchased

Text by Ranjabati Das

Great deals, easy access, a user-friendly interface and a writing platform are some of the star features of the country’s first mobile publishing app Juggernaut

So what can you buy for just rupees 10? Books spanning 11 genres and two languages, English and Hindi, thanks to a mobile-first publishing venture. Also housing reads in three other price points, and a number of classics for free, Juggernaut is the brainwave of Chiki Sarkar who is determined to lure the millions of smartphone users obsessed with Candy Crush, Facebook, YouTube, online shopping, WhatsApp and the like into becoming writers and readers who buy — giving new meaning to the adage ‘time is money’. Threatening to change the dynamics of an age-old industry that has been redefined by technology time and again, the app comes with a choice of perks — like text and background adjustment options, ratings and reviews — aimed at making the experience as seamless as possible. Sarkar has tapped and moved in on gaps in the traditional publishing space. Two major wins include making fickle-minded millennials sit up and read for leisure and the introduction of the Writing Platform which enables budding writers to self-publish.

So what is the best part of being a pioneer in the phone publishing space in India? “I get to make the rules as I go along,” responds Sarkar, who has previously worked across many big names in traditional publishing, including the London-based Bloomsbury Publishing, and Random House India, Penguin India and their merger Penguin Random House India back home.

“I think digital publishing is not in competition with the physical model. You might read different things differently. For example, we publish a weekly short story, and this gets lot of traction. It’s a short cool bite in the middle of a day which works perfectly.”

“Books aren’t essential, unlike food, travel and banking, and for these we have Swiggy, Uber and so on. So, as an app, we are relatively low priority for a user. Given that, we have to constantly refresh the catalogue and link our books to what’s happening around us.”

“Indians spend more time on their phones than anywhere else according to the Mary Meeker report on internet trends. So, sooner or later all publishing companies have to engage with this space seriously and with ambition.”

“I never worry about first-time writers — I care more about the story they are telling. Abheek (Barua, chief economist at HDFC) had written a gripping thriller, The Beheading (also published as City of Death and now just bought by Pooja Bhatt as her comeback vehicle), which his editor at Juggernaut just loved. As for Sunny (Leone) — she’s totally amazing, no?”

“I don’t think print or digital. I love books and stories and reading. And I am omnivorous reader — you’ll find me reading books on the phone and on a Kindle. I always have a book on hand…I am currently rereading Agatha Christie and loving her!”

“The pros of the digital model are that it is the medium of the future and it allows immense flexibility — I can publish a short story, I can serialise, I can publish at 10 p.m., I can price low, I can learn about my customers, I can reach out to them. The cons are that Juggernaut is a new behaviour and it is going to take time to establish itself. It is and will always be a massive learning space.”

“Going digital hasn’t changed the way I work — I read across all mediums, edit on my laptop and come up with my best ideas face-to-face with people! Having a baby has changed the way I work more than going digital has!”

Chiki Unabridged
Three words to describe Juggernaut…
intelligent, friendly and always buzzy.

Best read of 2017 so far…
Ghachar Ghochar (by Vivek Shanbhag).

Three qualities that make a good writer…
telling a story straight and well, making characters come alive, being able to take edits and constructive criticism.

Three tips to make a story flow…
think of your opening. Tell the story step by step. And end chapters well.

Most popular categories on Juggernaut…
short stories, erotica, non-fiction.

Three most in-demand authors…
Rujuta Diwekar, Vaasanthi and Twinkle Khanna.

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