Part 1: The App
Juggernaut’s app was launched in April 2016, its print list in about July/August the same year. Two years on where have we got to? In this two part series, we present our learnings for digital and for print. First up, the app.
What’s a Million Downloads Worth?
Earlier this year, we hit a major milestone – a million downloads. There were cheers in the office but it was also a good time to sit down and look at how we were doing and the ways we could go better.
Here was our number 1 problem. Sure, we were growing but so was our performance marketing spends. Was that the best way to really get more readers and more transactions on the app? While we were constantly told to pay attention to our downloads, our learnings from the last two years have been that it’s not the number that really counts.
Books are a very special category. They have amongst the highest paid conversion (as a percentage of actives) amongst all media – 8-10 percent of our actives base transacts with us monthly. But let’s also be real – out of music, video and reading, books come a clear third. Even Google Play books or Wattpad do not have the actives base as compared to 2/3 media platforms.
So the bigger things to look at were, transactions and time spent on our platform. How well were we doing in those two areas and were those increased downloads really helping?
Let’s Be Everywhere
We decided no, and in the last 6 months have done a radical strategic shift slashing our performance marketing budgets and looking at other strategies. The biggest was thinking about how book buying worked. If part of what we wanted was to lure the non-committed, casual reader would they even care to keep coming back to a specialised book store? And should we then be where they were? Apart from being a standalone reading app, could we integrate into other platforms? Become the country’s first digital bookshop chain?
Our light, flexible app allowed for easy integrations and the price points on Juggernaut’s books – between Rs 10-80 – and having a catalogue in Hindi and English made us attractive to potential platforms. Our first integration was with Railyatri who have created a special book lounge for us with superb results.
We now get 2x the sales on Railyatri vs our own platform. One integration tripled our paid sales even as our downloads lowered. Further each reading session is about 21 mins on average in Railyatri, easily 4x the engagement of leading news sites. What also surprised is that we are getting a paying Hindi user alongside English. Next up is Indian Express and Airtel Books, but our plan is to have 5 such integrations in the next year.
Discovery, Discovery, Discovery
We began Juggernaut asking how we could get readers to experiment with writers and stories they hadn’t heard of. Just as in music or video – the top 200 titles account for a bulk of reading and search. So alongside cutting our performance marketing, we put more energy and attention on this.
One part has been coming up with better curations and themes. Here’s a sample of collections we have on our home page currently:
Reinvent Yourself; Blood, Sweat and Tears (for sports books); Mindful Parenting and The Life of Chief Ministers.
We’ve begun to change our carousels every 15 days. And our original Juggernaut mantra of being newsy and topical remains – we put out a LGBTQ collection within hours of the 377 judgement.
Alongside this, we’ve created a super cool books newsfeed with videos, RSVPS for events, exciting book news from all over the world etc.
For the last 4 months we have experimented and created a homepage play book with terrific results. Engagement per session is up 4x since then.
What’s helped is having an editorial sensibility that’s at the heart of our DNA. Increasingly in publishing – and this is for both print and digital – we’ll need people who know and read the books in every aspect of the business, not just editorial. This is especially the case online.
Combination of owned content (low price and made for digital i.e. shorter, around themes for 18-30 year old males) and high-quality partner content is key. We struggled with retention for the first year till we managed to get the catalogues of HarperCollins India, US, UK as well as Bloomsbury and our retention numbers have increased 3x since our catalogue expanded.
There is a handful of book publishing platform startups that have managed to get the big MNC catalogues in – we are the only ones in India to do so. We are in talks with two of the other Big 5 publishers as well.
What this means is that we’re creating two different approaches to online reading. Both valid. Through our integrations into mass platforms like Express and Railyatri, we’re reaching out to the casual reader, who wants impromptu reading at attractive prices and lengths. Our gut says this is the way to go beyond the tier 1 city reader. And they’re reading the homegrown stuff that we’re making – love, sex romance, non-fiction are the two big categories, alongside free classics, and in hindi as well as english of course.
But the Juggernaut app will slowly develop into a cooler, feature-rich reader for the more serious and committed reader and a diaspora audience that we’ll consolidate next year. Our hunch, powered by primarily the same catalogue, both these routes will take us to very different places.
The Writing Platform: The Human Touch
The writing platform has been a revelation. Since the launch of the writing platform we have built a 1500+ writers’ community which engages with us through a combination of writing prompts (80 so far!) and offline workshops (close to 50 workshops done). 50% of these writers return to us to write us another story.
The turning point in the writing platform came when we realised we had to have a combination of online and offline events as unlike pure play technology driven self publishing platforms we had serious ways of adding value to the amateur writers. We now have monthly workshops in Mumbai and Delhi and regular workshops in some of the other cities. The most successful one we’ve had was using a speed-dating concept where we paired two authors from the writing platform with each other.
Our effort is to make our amateur writers heard and seen – we push them via our banners, mailers and are now giving out 2-4 writing contracts every month to amateurs. Today, 30% of the stories read on the app are from the writer’s platform.
Our most ambitious project over the last few months has been the development and testing of the Airtel Books app. It is currently in beta testing and we are working towards a commercial launch 3 months out. Targeting the high value and post paid customers of Airtel, this app will have the muscle power to compete with the market leader today, Kindle in a very meaningful way. While on the catalogue and the reader we will be competitive with Kindle, we are working towards creating smoother registrations and payments and using the distribution muscle of the country’s largest telco to drive scale.
Paying Subscribers: Early days
We launched this quietly 6 months ago – with an invite only to top paying users or core users. A couple of months ago, we’ve opened to all. 1% of actives converted to paying users, higher than other media services while our annual program is doing better than 6-month program.
We’re taking this slow, focusing on the other aspects of the business before we come to it, so this is a work in progress. More in our next update.