With ‘Juggernauts’ revolutionizing the publishing space today, are bookstores looking at a bleak future?

(Published in The Huffington Post India : http://www.huffingtonpost.in/shaira-mohan/with-juggernauts )

I asked a friend recently for her copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s newest (controversial) masterpiece that had us drooling as soon as news spread about the discovery of the unpublished manuscript.

‘Just download it on your Ipad,na’, was her immediate response. Which was succeeded by a look of utter disbelief when I told her that this was the one thing that I was very old school about. That I need the touch, feel and smell of an actual physical book in my hand to satisfy my OCRD as I call it – Obsessive Compulsive Reading Disorder.

I knew why she was so surprised. I have always been an emphatic cheerleader of the digital world (so yes, I will dare to be so brave as to say that I support Modi’s Digital India efforts) in all its ‘app-for-everything’, ‘click-to-access’, device-driven, futuristic splendour.Having worked in the Marketing and Advertising space for many years, the importance of having a heavy digital footprint was a constant driving force and the need to adapt to the ever changing and evolving customer mindspace induced the need for consistently churning out creative ideas to stay ahead of the game.

The Publishing industry is no exception. With Digital Publishers spearheading the industry towards a truly game-changing ‘Digital Revolution’, the traditional brick-and-mortar booksellers and conglomerates that started it all are confronted with the inevitable doom. When I read about one of the oldest bookstores of Delhi – Fact & Fiction’s recent decision to close shop after an admirable 30  plus years in business, it was a reality check not just for the many other bookstores but also customers like me who are still accustomed to their conventional book-in-hand routine. In a recent article he wrote, owner of Fact & Fiction, Ajit Vikram Singh said, “Some advise me on staying alive in a marketplace run by the internet….I am rather sceptical of my relevance in the current market scenario.”

I don’t blame him. The ‘writing’ is on the proverbial wall.

As hard as it is to accept, the internet today is changing the landscape of virtually any and every business today and if you don’t adapt, you lose. Online sellers like Amazon, BuyBooksIndia, Flipkart had already revolutionized the game by bridging the gaps between books and their consumers through click-to-order platforms on the internet that had set in motion the souring of the business of on-ground bookstores.

And now in another futuristic, revolutionary move, the indelible Chiki Sarkar, former Publisher at Penguin Random House is attempting to further diminish the gap between readers and their reading material by targeting the consumers’ biggest weakness today – mobile phones. Together with her partner, Durga Raghunath, a veteran in the digital publishing space, Sarkar’s new company, Juggernaut aims to become India’s first phone publisher bringing a plethora of new kinds of books in many genres not only to the bookstores and Ipads but also to mobile phones. Why? “If India is going to live on the phone, if we’re going to become a one-device population, then Indians will also read on the phone,” is her simple and realistic reasoning.

This is undoubtedly a brilliant move opening a whole new avenue in publishing today. Books, novels, and even short stories that seem to be in the pipeline, Sarkar is confident that by shifting some of the focus on to the mobile users who are engrossed in their cell phones all day, Juggernaut’s mobile reading app will tap into a much wider demographic, addressing an ostensibly growing need, not to mention the ability of readers to interact with authors and vice versa.

I’m all for it. And like Sarkar points out, writers will be too as this opens for them yet another platform to showcase and sell their goods, and will be only too happy to engage their readers for early promotions.

But what of our good old musty smelling, page-turning, book-mark friendly physical books? Not that libraries, brick-and-mortar bookstores will all become redundant (Juggernaut will be publishing paper books and e-books too) but the repercussions of these inevitable, futuristic moves seem less than promising for our conventional printing and publishing friends. Not just books but also newspapers and magazines today are weathering the same storm in the face of the unbeatable competitor – the internet.

My hope is that we don’t lose many more old favorites like Fact & Fiction that offer the one thing that the internet can’t – a personal touch and therapeutic ambience of a bookstore. Having said that let’s not take away from the fact that e-books and mobile publishing also facilitate environment friendly practices as the lack of paper means less trees being cut.

While I applaud Sarkar for bringing the next big thing in publishing to our door and wish her much success for her new mobile endeavour, my bookshelves will continue to fill up, hopefully with some exciting new titles from Juggernaut too!

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