Innovative Publishing

Books 2.0: Juggernaut’s bold new social reading and publishing venture goes live on mobiles

An app that aims to transform reading is a huge bet to attract smartphone warriors to books.

What happens when a curated online bookshop, rich with the promise of browsing and sampling, is combined with the minimalist environment of an e-book reader? You have the Juggernaut reading app.

Or, the all-new way of discovering and buying books, reading (and, later) writing books, and chatting with writers.

Or, the way Durga Raghunath, CEO of publishing company Juggernaut, thinks of it, a Netflix of books. Where you first have an interesting time looking up what you want to read, and then shut out everything else to just read.

Juggernaut, of course, is the brainchild of Chiki Sarkar, most lately publisher at Penguin Random House India, who has, along with Raghunath and a hand-picked team of editors, been extraordinarily quick in getting books out to readers.

It’s a grand, new experiment, which aims to do nothing less than get huge numbers of India’s biggest demographic segment – some 60 per cent of the population is under 30 – to read books. Not, however, in the way that their parents did, but in their favourite space – the smartphone.

Taking the experience beyond the e-book, Sarkar and Raghunath, powered by a technology and a usability team – largely unknown ideas in publishing – have just launched the Juggernaut app with the idea of taking books to young readers in a form familiar to them today, instead of waiting for them to come to books. Along the way, the app will also offer a brand new experience to writers.

What readers will get

Launching with 100 titles, Juggernaut has a line-up comprising 50 of its own books, and 50 more from publishing partners, among them being children’s publishers like Duckbill and Tulika Book. Juggernaut’s own list is, as one might expect from Sarkar, an engaging combination of well-known people writing unusual things (Sunny Leone’s short stories, Praveen Swami’s thrillers, Rajdeep Sardesai on cricket), power writers on home turf (William Dalrymple), first-time writers (Abheek Barua), and books on behavioural hot buttons (on overcoming heartbreak, for instance).

There’s a strong focus on genre fiction – crime, thrillers, fantasy, and even classics packaged to look contemporary – as a strategy for attracting younger readers who might not be excited enough by top notch names in literary fiction. More significant, however, are the ways in which the form is being fitted to smartphone-reading.

Not only have Sarkar and her team reduced the baseline length of their books to around 20,000 words, they’re also experimenting with serialisation and timed arrivals (a Sunny Leone story pops into your app every night at 10 PM for seven successive days). So the offering is no longer limited to a book, but extends to include how it will be read.

New forms of pricing

Young readers may have champagne tastes but beer wallets, reckons Raghunath. And the business plan for Juggernaut depends not on the individual sale of each title – the traditional method used by publishers – but on repeat purchases by each reader. That, after all, is one of the main reasons for creating an app, to be returned to, re-explored, and re-occupied repeatedly, instead of just e-books.

So, learning from the Netflix model, there is a strong layer of subscription-based pricing, with both daily and monthly passes. Rs 15 a day or Rs 299 a month (with five books at a time available for offline reading) will give a reader all she can read in that period. This, of course, is in addition to buying individual books, which will be downloaded to the phone. And with payment being as simple as paying for an Uber or Ola cab, the publishers are hoping to take the pain and inhibition out of paying online.

Discovering books

Although 100 books may not seem too large a list to go through even in linear fashion, the app is designed, obviously, for a much larger repository, so that each reader can find books aligned to their specific interest. The general presentation is influenced by media apps, with specific books being highlighted and positioned visually much in the same way as the biggest news stories of the hour are on a news media offering.

The idea is to build a relationship between a reader and a book – “Do I like this? do I want to recommend it to others? do I want to read it over and over again?” Like shortlisted potential dates on Tinder, users of this app will be building their personal lists of books they want to try out.

A critical aspect of the presentation is the cover of the book. Realising the value of the fill-screen image when it comes to converting interest to purchase, Juggernaut has designed the app for people to play with the cover visuals as they would with photographs on social media. And yes, this meant testing covers rigorously.

A brave new world for writers

For writers, almost everything will change. The Juggernaut app will add two transformative elements to the writer’s life. First, readers will not only rate the books they read, but they will also be able to ask the writer questions, using the app, before, during, or after reading a book. While this is possible even through a writer’s Facebook or Twitter pages, here the reader will most likely be actually reading the book while talking about with the writer.

Of course, writers must be prepared to respond. Getting to know exactly what readers think of your book – not as an aggregation of ritualistic ‘likes’ but as actual, individualised, responses, can be both exhilarating as well as daunting.

It’s not yet clear whether Juggernaut’s authors are aware that they have signed up not for a largely passive book-reading device like the Kindle, but a social reading app. And the more successful a writer is, the more they are likely to wake up in the morning to a flood of questions to be answered – quickly. And this could be a long-term experience if the book keeps selling.

The second change will be the pleasure – or pain – of tracking sales almost in real-time. Every writer will have a dashboard to find out exactly how many digital copies of their books have been sold. This will take the opacity out of the process, which currently comprises the annual royalty statement and occasional checking of the rank of a book on Amazon’s charts. But it will also make ecstasy and/or heartbreak instant.

What’s not out yet

A later version of the Juggernaut app will see it becoming not just a reading but also a writing space. Much like Wattpad, amateurs – and no one’s keeping the professionals out, either – will be able to add their original work and have it read, critiqued, discussed and, possibly, up- or downvoted by everyone reading. And from these community authors could emerge writers whose books Juggernaut will pick up, based on the popular response, for its main list.

Even in its first version, the app will blur the thin line between readers and writers. Once the community writing module is integrated, the line could disappear altogether. The outcome could be a transformative democratisation, with the gatekeeping roles of editing and publishing becoming less relevant as readers access the marketplace directly and pick what they like, without having the leave the environment in which they read works that have been through the formal publishing process. Writers will certainly have to respond in new ways to this new reality.

The success of Juggernaut’s reading app cannot be measured by its ability to please the existing reader. It doesn’t matter whether today’s reader takes to the app or not, since that will not expand the number of readers. If the app gains large number of first-time readers, it will have succeeded.

But while the app may be instrumental in getting non-readers to try reading, only the availability of great books will keep those readers coming back for more. This is where, working in a new space, Juggernaut will have to break new ground. Because yesterday’s books, even if shortened for a digital generation, might not be enough – the goalposts have to be shifted.

For both Juggernaut and Indian publishing, the success of the app will be a gamechanger. While there will be print editions of some (not all) of the books too, it’s the digital play that will make or break this venture.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.