April 9, 2020
How India’s smartphone revolution is creating a new generation of readers and writers | Chiki Sarkar

How India’s smartphone revolution is creating a new generation of readers and writers | Chiki Sarkar

Look all around you. Whether you’re in a subway, a park,
an airport, a restaurant, even at this conference, all of you have a phone in your hands
or maybe in your pockets. How many of you have a book? Very few, right? This is the sight that used to greet me every time I walked out
of my office block. I was surrounded by a sea
of 20-something professionals glued to their phones. And not a single one
had a book in their hands. And this used to make me
very, very frustrated. I was a bookworm all my life. Books formed the milestones of my life. The first man I fell
in love with was Mr. Darcy. I first read “Harry Potter” when I was 21,
on a summer break from college. And I remember the first night I spent
in a little flat I bought in my mid-20s, very proudly, and I spent the whole night
reading “The Da Vinci Code.” And then I’m going to make
a terrible confession: even today, when I’m low,
I get into bed with “War and Peace.” Don’t laugh. (Laughter) But I was also like all those
people I saw around me: I, too, lived on my phone. I ordered my groceries online, and soon my app knew
that I needed a monthly dose of diapers. I booked my cinemas on my phone. I booked planes on my phone. And when I did the long commute back home
like most urban Indians, and was stuck in traffic, I passed the time on WhatsApp,
video-chatting my twin. I was part of an extraordinary revolution
that was happening in India. Indians are the second-largest
users of smartphones in the world. And data prices have been
slashed so radically that half of urban India
and even a part of rural India now have a smartphone
with a data connection in their hands. And if you know anything about India, you’ll know that “half” means,
like, all of America or something. You know, it’s large numbers. (Laughter) And these numbers are just growing
and growing and growing. They’re exploding. And what they’re doing
is empowering Indians in all kinds of extraordinary ways. And yet, none of these changes
that I was seeing around me were reflected in my world,
my world of books. I live in a country the size of Europe, and it only has 50 decent bookshops. And Indians just didn’t seem
to want to read for fun. So if you look at all
the best-seller lists in India, what you’ll always find
in the best-seller list is exam and professional guides. Imagine if you found the SAT guides
as the “New York Times” number one seller, month after month. And yet, the smartphone revolution
was creating readers and writers of a different kind. Whether it was on Facebook or WhatsApp, Indians were writing and sharing
and reading all kinds of things: terrible jokes, spurious pop history, long, emotional confessions, diatribes against the government. And as I read and shared these things,
I wondered to myself, “Could I get these writers
and these readers, could I turn them into my readers?” And so I left my plush corner office and my job as the publisher
of India’s top publishing company, and I set up on my own. I moved into a single large room
in a cheap bohemian district of Delhi, with a small team. And there, I set up
a new kind of publishing house. A new kind of publishing house
needs a new kind of reader and a new kind of book. And so I asked myself,
“What would this new reader want? Would they prize urgency, relevance, timeliness, directness — the very qualities they seem to want
from their online services, indeed, the qualities they seem
to want from life today?” I knew that my readers
were always on the go. I’d have to fit into
their lifestyle and schedules. Would they actually want to read
a 200-page book? Or would they want something
a little bit more digestible? Indians are incredibly value-conscious, especially when it comes
to their online reading. I knew I had to give them
books under a dollar. And so my company was formed,
and it was born. It was a platform where we created a list
of stories designed for the smartphone, but it also allowed amateur writers
to upload their own stories, so they could be showcased
along with the very writers they read and admired. And we could also enter into
other people’s digital platforms. So, imagine this: imagine you’re a receptionist,
you’ve had a long day at work, you book your cab
in your ride-hailing app, it shows up, and you get into your car,
and you lie back on your seat, and you put on your app. And you find a set of stories
waiting for you, timed to your journey. Imagine you’re a gay young woman, in a relatively conservative city
like Lucknow, which lies near Delhi. There’s no way your parents
know about your sexuality. They’d completely freak out. Would you like lesbian love stories
written in Hindi, priced under a dollar, to be read in the privacy of your phone? And could I match readers to the events that were taking place
around them in real time? So we published biographies
of very famous politicians after they won big elections. When the supreme court
decriminalized homosexuality, an LGBTQ collection was waiting
on our home page. And when India’s Toni Morrison,
the great writer Mahasweta Devi died, our readers found a short story by her
as soon as news hit. The idea was to be relevant
to every moment of a reader’s life. Who are our readers? They’re mostly young men
under the age of 30. There’s someone like Salil, who lives in a city where
there isn’t a modern bookshop. And he comes to our app almost every day. There’s someone like Manoj, who mostly reads us
during the long commute back home. And there’s someone like Ahmed,
who loves our nonfiction that he can read in a single sitting,
and that’s priced very low. Imagine if you’re like a young, techie boy in India’s Silicon Valley
city of Bangalore. And one day, you get
an in-app notification and it says that your favorite actress
has written a sexy short story and it’s waiting for you. That’s how we launched Juggernaut. We got a very famous ex-adult star,
called Sunny Leone. She’s India’s most Googled
person, as it happens. And we got her to write us
a collection of sexy short stories that we published every night for a week. And it was a sensation. I mean, no one could believe
that we’d asked Sunny Leone to write. But she did, and she proved everyone wrong, and she found this immense readership. And just as we’ve redefined
what a book is and how a reader behaves, we’re rethinking who an author is. In our amateur writing platform, we have writers that range
from teenagers to housewives. And they’re writing all kinds of things. It starts as small as a poem,
an essay, a single short story … Fifty percent of them are returning
to the app to write again. Take someone like Neeraj. He’s a middle-aged executive,
wife, two kids, a good job. And Neeraj loves to read. But every time Neeraj read
a book that he loved, he was also filled with regret. He wondered to himself
if he could write, too. He was convinced
he had stories in his mind. But time and real life had happened,
and he couldn’t really manage it. And then he heard about
the Juggernaut writer’s platform. And what he loved about it
was that he felt this was a place where he could stand
head and shoulders, equally, with the very writers
that he most admired. And so he began to write. And he snatched
a minute here, an hour there, in between flights in airports, late at night, when he had
a little bit of time on his hands. And he wrote this
extraordinary story for us. He wrote a story
about a family of assassins who lived in the winding
lanes of Old Delhi. We loved it, it was so fresh and original. And before Neeraj knew it,
he’d not only scored a film deal but also a second contract
to write another story. Neeraj’s story is one of the most read
stories on our app. My journey is very, very young. We’re a two-year-old company,
and we have a long way to go. But we already, and we will
by the end of this year, have about half a million stories,
many priced at under a dollar. Most of our readers love reading and trying out authors
they’ve never, ever heard of before. Thirty percent of our home page reads comes out of the writing
that comes from our writer’s platform. By being everywhere, by being accessible and relevant, I hope to make reading a daily habit, as easy and effortless
as checking your email, as booking a ticket online or ordering your groceries. And as for me, I’ve discovered that as I entered
the six-inch world of the smartphone, my own world just got very, very big. Thank you. (Applause)

42 thoughts on “How India’s smartphone revolution is creating a new generation of readers and writers | Chiki Sarkar

  1. Misleading Title. Similar stuff already exists!
    • Juggurnaut promotion for more Investments than for readers I/We did this that.
    • What abt impact. Stats.
    • oddity way of speaking body language (although sounds well but bit slow on emphasising each word like actually made revolution! In dreams!!)
    Many things exists already.
    Mis Latecomer hoping credits about revolution😂😂

  2. The way every tech talk starts is by
    Tech is growing exponentially or some pros and cons of tech (like this one) those watching lota tech videos can relate ?

  3. for the 3% reading this, I hope you become successful in life with everything you dreamed of, and accomplish more than you had imagined. I am a youtuber myself and I'm not asking you to do anything. but I would love to hit 20k by the end of February! THANK YOU, ALL OF YOUTUBE

  4. No need to scrawl down, here is a summery of the comments. People saying "I'm not like other girls I read books" And racist comments. your welcome.

  5. PewDiePie likes reading. So let's subcribe to his channel, for the sake of bookworming and all off that stuff. And unsub from t-series, they don't read there, do they?

  6. She was just looking at the teleprompter and reading.. You need to make some eye contact with the audience too, for engagement..

  7. Basically smartphones are ruining potential of lot of youth in India as a matter of fact in the entire world. Outburst of the communication revolution has exposed everyone to both good and bad things. But people tend to hook on bad things more than anything like spending productive hours on social media and gaming. Am not against smart phones but am against its unmindful use. I consider them as just a tool, we being the users. The thing this woman is talking about a small benefit against lot of potential losses. Its on the user not on the device.

  8. Redefining Books & Authors. India 2nd largest consumers of smartphones. Empower all kinds of people in extraordinary ways. Only 50 decent book shops in India. Best sellers are professional books. To stay relevant, publishers need to publish literature in smaller digestible chunks on the phone. Be everywhere, accessible, and relevant. Create a big world on a small phone. Writers platform: http://juggernaut.in https://twitter.com/tedstalkin

  9. I wonder why the main audience for this app is males and not females. Otherwise, an encouraging video that targets the young adult population to read in this fast-moving life.

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