The grubby, open secret of Indian publishing is that after all the wine-and-cheese launches have been wrapped up, books don’t sell, authors don’t get paid. Could a mobile publishing app that went live (Juggernaut.in) a few hours ago be the disruptor it needs?
It all depends on you. If you are someone who spends a few hours on news websites, and uses a mobile wallet to Uber yourself from point A to point B (and even if you have never read a book, not even Chetan Bhagat), the question Juggernaut wants to ask you: will you buy a smartphone book?
The digital publishing house, founded by Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath, has launched with 100 books, half of which is their commissioned content. Each is priced between Rs 49 and Rs 149. They are all short books: 20,000 to 30,000 words long. The big deal was to tie up with mobile wallet firm Paytm and there will soon be subscription offers as well.
It might be a new publishing house, but it is not thinking niche or literary. It has its eyes on the mass-market, hoping to sell books you did not know you wished for. “The app will have commercial material primarily: strong on celebrity, a strong crime list, a strong love sex and romance list. Alongside it (there will be) very smart, very sharp non-fiction,” says Sarkar.
Among its first releases is Indian Superfoods by Rujuta Diwekar, and a collection of erotic stories by actor Sunny Leone, titled Sweet Dreams. “If you buy the book, every night at 10 pm, one short story by Sunny Leone releases on your app for a week,” says Sarkar. “We want to show that we can create blockbusters,” says Raghunath. (Expect Great Indian Novels to be kept at a barge-pole’s length, though short stories will be welcomed.)
The intersection of the 40-50 million people who read news online and a large wallet-paying audience is where her readers lie, says Raghunath. “All these people read on their phones, but they are not reading books. If I can get them to sample one crime story, or try to get them to read for five minutes or try Juggernaut for one day, I think we have a chance to build a relationship,” she says.
The app itself is attractive and clutter-free, and offers an experience much more pleasing than reading anodyne PDFs or epub files on your phone. The medium will shape the message. There is a strong accent on serialisation of stories, hoping to bring the reader back again and again on the app.
Readers can rate a book and ask questions of writers (reclusive authors will not be pleased one bit). “We are trying to make the act of reading clutter free. But if you want to mark something, you can. There is a way for you to highlight it, share it, save it. You can also ask the author questions (while you read). The author gets a notification and answers,” says Raghunath. The author is bound by contract to spend some time on the app, interacting with readers.
Across the world, the digital has flattened the landscape of publishing, making editors and publishers rather redundant, as the success of fan fiction or Wattpad—a storytelling app that has been embraced, among others, by teen writers who shape their stories according to reader response–would attest to.
Besides buying and reading, you can also write on the Juggernaut app. “I think the other big thing that I’ve always had with publishing is that it’s very closed, very incestuous. I feel that to democratise writing as well you need to have a writing platform that helps you to discover new writers. So, anyone can publish on the app, and if it does well, an editor likes your work, we can then acquire the book,” says Raghunath.
Is it time to turn the page? Only you know the answer.