Digital publishing house Juggernaut, founded by Chiki Sarkar and Durga Raghunath, goes live on Friday with more than 100 book titles put together in just seven months of its launch.
Authors featured in the Juggernaut catalog include political strategist Prashant Kishor, who worked on the successful election campaign of Narendra Modi in 2014 and Nitish Kumar in Bihar last year; and adult movie star-turned-mainstream actress Sunny Leone.
Prices of the books will range from Rs.49 to Rs.99 and Rs.149. A majority of the books, including Leone’s collection of short stories Sweet Dreams and Rujuta Diwekar’s Indiansuperfoods, will be priced at Rs.99 each.
Soon after launch, the company will also offer daily membership at Rs.15 and monthly membership for Rs.299, the cost of an average paperback.
“I think long term we want to take the membership route. We don’t want to keep discounting every single book,” said Ragunath, co-founder and chief executive at Juggernaut.
“We start daily membership two weeks after launch and we are offering monthly membership as well. We are trying to play with the price point to say that for the price of a paperback you can read Juggernaut originals,” she said.
Juggernaut has also tied up with mobile wallet firm Paytm, whose founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma will act as an advisor to the company.
“My thinking when it comes to pricing was influenced by Paytm. They are our exclusive partner in the launch. It’s a deep integration which they’ve done with only Uber and Zomato before this. You can use Paytm to access the app. So Paytm will know the number of purchases that are happening on the app daily and that’s how their business works,” said Raghunath.
Sharma said the tie-up would be mutually beneficial.
“India’s mobile-first consumers make us a great discovery platform for new business models across industries. I am very happy that we, at Paytm, are partnering with one such pioneer in the publishing world. Durga and Chiki have cracked many parts of this puzzle already,” Sharma said in an emailed statement.
For Raghunath and co-founder Sarkar, former publisher and editor-in-chief of Penguin Random House India, it made sense to partner with Paytm to reach out to Juggernaut’s target audience.
“We will market to what we think our appropriate audience is together. Because they have an Uber audience they have a Zomato audience and 100 million active monthly users, so I think there is a sweet spot of 7-10 million that we can attack via Paytm because of their reach,” Raghunath said. “Plus I think Vijay personally is very bullish about this whole idea—how can we get people to read short books with big names—he loved the plan and the idea,” she added.
The number of mobile Internet users in India is projected to grow 21% to reach 371 million by June 2016 from 306 million in December 2015, according to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and market research firm IMRB International.
Juggernaut will also launch books in Hindi by June. Founded in September 2015, Juggernaut has raised Rs.15 crore so far and counts Infosys Ltd co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Fab India promoter William Bissell and Boston Consulting Group’s India managing director Neeraj Aggarwal among its investors. The company plans to raise a fresh round of funding in the second half of this year.
Half the 100 titles the app is launching with are Juggernaut’s own originals. The other half are books being offered in partnership with other publishers like Westland and Duckbill.
Sarkar and Raghunath say the mobile app ecosystem will be less cost-intensive than traditional publishing.
“The good thing about the digital model is that your path to profitability is definitely quicker because you’re not spending money every time your book gets downloaded. We are really spending money on author acquisition because book making money is not there and extra book money for every book printed is not there. So immediately your economics has become more streamlined. And there too we have done a fairly stellar job of buying our books...We have not overspent on author acquisition,” said Raghunath.
Juggernaut at present has close to a 25-member team across Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata and also employs people from e-commerce websites Flipkart and Amazon, largely to handle the technology part of the business.
The real concern for Juggernaut could be getting people onto the platform, said Anant Padmanabhan, chief executive at Harper Collins India.
“Getting people to read on an app is not new and there are real challenges to it. You need to have a consistent stream of diverse content being updated everyday. On the world length, long-format online has not been path-breaking in India and Juggernaut’s original plan was to publish short content for mobile,” said Padmanabhan.
To be sure, publishers like Penguin Random House and Harper Collins have attempted publishing 5,000-10,000 word stories online and it has not worked in India. In addition to that, Padmanabhan feels the price points at Juggernaut are expensive.
“These price points and cheaper ones have been tried and tested in the mobile commerce space while consuming content across cricket, Bollywood, astrology etc. The book reader is an intelligent beast; this pricing doesn’t seem to entice new subscribers,” he said.
As a mobile-first publisher, if Juggernaut is indeed able to break new ground, Harper Collins will be happy to partner with it and license content, Padmanabhan said.