Chiki Sarkar, Durga Raghunath launch mobile publishing start-up

Juggernaut has raised Rs15 crore from investors including Nandan Nilekani, William Bissell and Neeraj Aggarwal

Vidhi Choudhary
Updated23 Sep 2015
India has 159 million smartphone users as on August 2015, according to a report published by IAMAI and consultancy firm KPMG. Photo: Bloomberg<br />
India has 159 million smartphone users as on August 2015, according to a report published by IAMAI and consultancy firm KPMG. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Chiki Sarkar, former publisher and editor-in-chief of Penguin Random House India, and Durga Raghunath, former vice president (growth) at restaurant search service Zomato, have founded Juggernaut, a mobile-first publishing firm that 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.

Raghunath, a former managing editor at, is the chief executive and co-founder and Sarkar the publisher and founder of the venture that has raised 15 crore.

The combination of being a start-up about ideas and into digital worked in terms of attracting investors, Sarkar explained.

“With William I knew that he was investing in startups, and he cared about books and ideas; so does Nandan and he also gets digital, so for him this was a bit of a winning idea. Neeraj again used to head BCG’s digital strategy: all of them saw the promise in it and I think that’s why they have come in,” added Sarkar.

“Chiki Sarkar has a proven track record of attracting India’s best literary talent, and I am very excited to be investing in Juggernaut, her new and innovative publishing house,” said Bissell.

India has 159 million smartphone users as on August 2015, according to a report published by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and consultancy firm KPMG.

And e-books account for only 7-8% of publishing revenue in India, say executives in the publishing business. That doesn’t mean there are few people who buy e-books. There are probably many. And much of the money is likely made by Amazon.

That opportunity is what Juggernaut hopes to tap.

“Mobile is the super set. All books published in print will be on mobile. But everything that’s published on mobile does not necessarily have to be a physical book,” said Raghunath. French publisher Hachette India will be the distributor for book titles released by Juggernaut.

Sarkar is also hoping Juggernaut can address publishing’s existential crisis.

“An average book sells 3,000 copies, at a price point of 299; we bend our backs, break our backs making these great books and what happens at the end of it? Very few people read it. Authors don’t make an income to support themselves ... It’s a kind of a very tight business. You have to be exceptional to do well, but you can’t just have a strong average.”

Sarkar rattles off the problems—a poor financial model, not enough book shops, and not enough adventurism in getting people to read books.

Juggernaut hopes to address some of those by doing books differently for mobile and print.

“I think that’s where we are trying to think differently. How can we reimagine this book for mobile? How can we deal differently with titles, covers, chapters like we are breaking it down. And building it again,” added Raghunath.

“We are essentially a one-device world,” said Sarkar. “You might have a Kindle app but you’re primarily reading on your phone. So I think that’s relatively uncontested -- the idea of reading on the phone. The bigger questions for Durga and me was that if you’re going to read on the phone, how would you read, what would make sense? Can we by doing something really exciting on the phone bring in more readers? If there’s a world that’s scared of a big fat book in a bookshop and they’re not going (in there) is there a way that we can engage with them by taking notes from film or TV or music, taking some lessons from their digital behavior.”

An August article in the Wall Street Journal said: “The rise of phone reading is pushing publishers to rethink the way books are designed, marketed and sold with smaller screens in mind. It’s also prompting concern about whether deep, concentrated thinking is possible amid the ringing, buzzing and alerts that come with phones.” The article stated numbers (global, not specific to India) to make its case.

“In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.The number of people who read primarily on phones has risen to 14% in the first quarter of 2015 from 9% in 2012.

Meanwhile, those reading mainly on e-readers, such as Kindles and Nooks, dropped over the same period to 32% from 50%. Even tablet reading has declined recently to 41% in the first quarter this year from 44% in 2014.”

The mobile books will cost less, and probably be shorter, said Raghunath, adding that the company would use discounts, follow a freemium model to encourage users to sample Juggernaut’s offerings, and also have a digital loyalty programme.

“But we will always retain the purity of the book.”

A freemium model provides a product or service free to users and charges a fee for additional products or services that can enhance their experience.

The real question for Juggernaut is one raised by Anant Padmanabhan, the chief executive at Harper Collins India.

“Will mobile-only publishing be sustainable, because users want services on the mobile to be free and cheap? ”

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