Why Chiki Sarkar goes electronic in new publishing venture

Chiki Sarkar, who had quit Penguin Random House as publisher in spring amidst some turmoil, is back in the reckoning with her own publishing house, Juggernaut.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: October 7, 2016 5:02:54 pm
Chiki Sarkar (Courtesy: Juggernaut) Chiki Sarkar. (Courtesy: Juggernaut)

Chiki Sarkar, who had quit Penguin Random House as publisher in spring amidst some turmoil, is back in the reckoning with her own publishing house, Juggernaut. She clarifies that the name was chosen to convey the unstoppable rather than the capacity to run over. It is apt because the venture, which has adopted the mobile-first strategy which is now all the rage with websites, disrupts the traditional publishing model to explore new formats and opportunities.

“For us, the mobile is the new hardback,” says Durga Raghunath who launched Firstpost and headed Network 18 Digital before she took over as CEO of Juggernaut at the end of last week. The board of advisors includes the writer Vikram Chandra and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research (and contributing editor of The Indian Express). The investors, led by Nandan Nilekani, William Bissell of Fabindia and Neeraj Aggarwal, the new managing director of Boston Consulting Group, came on board on Tuesday and with Rs 15 crore in the war chest, Juggernaut is ready to roll.

In the 1960s and 70s, Sonny Mehta had shaken up English language publishing by regarding the paperback as the new hardback. The stately hardback edition, which traditionally came first off the press, was intended mainly for libraries, institutions, people who think of books as drawing room decor and reviewers who generated publicity which later drove paperback sales. Mehta targeted an emerging segment of educated youth who wanted budget books, and profitably published titles directly in paperback.

Now, Juggernaut is attempting something similar by putting the mobile ahead of print to target India’s mobile boom. The savings will enable the house to deal in formats neglected by print publishers, like the short story.

It will also permit risk-taking with new talent. Sarkar, who believes that “the book is under great threat in India,” speaks of “crowd-sourcing writing”. Raghunath points out that the Indian market offers very poor volumes, and that simply ramping up the numbers using electronic publishing will deliver economies of scale.

By stepping away a little from traditional publishing, Sarkar sees Juggernaut as giving the author a third life: “There’s the paper book, the e-book, but along with that, there’s life on the phone.” Initially publishing in English and Hindi, the new house hopes to branch out into a new Indian language every year. It expects to stay independent, editor-led and in search of “unusual collaborations”, in Sarkar’s words.

Also, it expects to change the manner in which stories are commissioned, written and read in India.

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