24/09/2015 10:55 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

A New Juggernaut Rolls Into Town, Brings Mobile Publishing To India

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My Twitter timeline has been abuzz. Syria, you think. Rahul Gandhi's latest speech. The lingering after-shocks of Cameron's Piggate. Maybe even some Trump-related jokes.

Think again.

Ever since it announced its presence circa 6pm on 22 September, the brand new publishing house Juggernaut has not looked like stopping. And like the proverbial juggernaut, it is both formidable and paradigm altering.

Set up by two high priestesses of publishing, Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath, Juggernaut plans to publish up to 50 books a year from April 2016. Not only that, the particular blend of skills the two founders bring to the company can conceivably remould the face of the beleaguered publishing industry forever.

"The mobile technology aspect of the firm will revolutionise much else about the archaic publishing infrastructure."

Sarkar has been publisher at Penguin India and Founder Publisher at Random House India, and Raghunath was previously CEO at Network 18 Digital and founder of Firstpost. Together, they plan to launch a company that gives authors both a digital and physical platform.

As Sarkar points out, writing doesn't pay. At least not in its current incarnation. An average book sells 3,000 copies at a price point of Rs 299. That's a little under Rs 9 lakhs in revenue. When you factor in advances, production and editorial costs, warehousing and distribution, not to mention the hefty cut taken by booksellers and online retailers, there isn't much margin in it for the publishers. And as for the authors, the result is disheartening.

Enter Sarkar and Raghunath with their Juggernaut spanning the worlds of publishing and technology. Think paper books, ebooks and phone books. No, not those heavy, dusty, obsolete tomes, but a special mobile offering for readers. Books on your mobile, in fact. Juggernaut plans to offer readers chapter-sized bites of books straight on their phone. If they like a chapter -- offered free -- they can purchase more. A simple, time- and pocket-friendly offering from a duo well versed in the publishing and technology industries.

The mobile technology aspect of the firm will revolutionise much else about the archaic publishing infrastructure. Think faster, more responsive book distribution. Faster payments to suppliers, printers and authors.

Juggernaut hasn't just taken Twitter by storm. It's captured the imagination of the business community too. It's backed by some of the brightest names in business -- Fabindia's William Bissell and Infosys' Nandan Nilekani - and Rs 15 crore has been raised in the first round of fundraising. Sarkar expects to raise more after the company begins operations. Advisers include Aveek Sarkar, owner of The Telegraph and Anand Bazaar Patrika and author Vikram Chandra. It's an all-star line-up filled with veterans in publishing, marketing and technology.

The new company naturally has its detractors too. Anant Padmanabhan of Harper Collins points out that mobile phone users expect mobile services to be free and cheap. Cheap, though, is not a problem when you consider the scale of the Indian mobile phone market. India had 150 million smart phone users as of August 2015, and the prospect of selling a "cheap" chapter to a tiny percentage of them is much, much more mouth-watering than the printing, distribution and warehousing concerns involved in selling 3000 copies of the average book.

Juggernaut has to be good news for aspiring authors. It gives them a new platform, and the ability to reach a greater audience. It has to be good news for the publishing industry. It allows them to cut the costs of production and lower the risk of publishing new authors. And it has to be excellent news for Sarkar and Raghunath. It places them at the cutting edge of their respective industries.

One thing is certain. It's sure to be an interesting ride. This juggernaut is not running out of power anytime soon.

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