A short conversation with Chiki Sarkar, publisher, Juggernaut, on publishing innovations.
On what's different
I always knew when we started Juggernaut that the fun was going to start when we could do things I hadn’t been able to do with physical books. If we were going to win the game, you were going to want to use Juggernaut very differently from the way you might use the Kindle or, indeed, a regular bookstore, or read as you normally do.
But these are big words – and truth be told I didn't always know exactly how we’d go about doing this. Three months after our launch, I know a little bit more now.
Juggernaut moves fast. We brought out mini-bios of Jayalalithaa and Mamata Banerjee on the elections results day in May, asked the Tamil writer Perumal Murugan if we could publish his favourite short stories to celebrate the Madras High Court judgement in his favour, translating it and putting it on the app within two weeks of the judgement, and wrote off to Seagull Books, Mahasweta Devi’s publishers, asking if we could publish a short story of the great writer the day after she died.
One of the things I’ve obsessed about as a publisher is how I can be relevant. This is one way. But the reason I can do it is that we have the channel, and we are editorially driven. So a good idea and its execution can happen in perfect sync.
On reader behaviour
I always knew that one of the things that would most interest me at Juggernaut was working with the data we had about what people were reading and who were doing the reading. Our readers love short stories, even very literary ones. Roberto Bolano’s short story Clara is one of the bestselling titles on our app for example. Reader responses to Murugan and Mahasweta Devi were great.
So we know we can give people a wide variety of stuff if it's a good length. Our understanding of who’s reading our love, sex, romance list has already helped us sharpen our strategy on it. And one of the things we do in our editorial meetings is constantly respond to some of this stuff, changing our minds about how to publish, and, indeed, what to publish. I love it though i think I run the team ragged.
On making small things big
It's hard to make an event of a single story – but the form of Juggernuat and the fact that we still work like a traditional publisher when it comes to publication (working with the press, pushing for reviews, interviews, creating a campaign on social media) means that we can do this in a way no one else can. We’ll push this more and more over the months, commissioning short stories in ways that we might commission non-fiction, and talking about them to the press in the way we might with a bigger book.
Alongside this, the fact that we think not just about the medium but also the content means we can reinvent the bigger book into something else. So we’ve just launched the mini-blockbuster – short, self-enclosed extracts of our big books, released anytime between three weeks and six months before the actual publication to sell on the app as a self-contained, standalone mini-book. The books have different titles and jackets – the idea is to sell it to you not as an excerpt but as a fully formed thing.
On a new form
We’ve started this week with Rajdeep Sardesai’s brilliant book on indian cricketers, Kanhaiya Kumar’s searing memoirs about being a poor rural boy, and his journey to Delhi and a sizzling and deliciously gossipy book about Rekha – all of them available on our app. And we’ll do this every month or other month. We want to generate interest for the actual books, create our first bank of known readers for them, and, most important, give readers another way to get into a bigger book. We’re also extending the idea of creating the mini-book in other ways, including working with third parties.
The real-time book, the event short story and the mini-blockbuster – three little "inventions" in our first three months. I want to do lots more and we’re going to need to constantly experiment before we know we truly are and what we can do. That’s when the game starts getting really interesting.