India’s women are ascending at a rapid rate although you would not know that if you relied on mainstream media commentary in India. Our colleague, Nandita Rajhansa, wrote a piece on this subject a fortnight ago – see https://marcellus.in/blogs/
Validation of Nandita’s point of view comes from an unusual source. As this piece in The Print says: “Bengaluru-based Pratilipi, which was founded in 2014 and is now home to 800,000 writers and 25 million monthly readers, has emerged as a haven for many aspiring young writers who don’t have to jump through the formidable gate-keeping hoops of the traditional publishing industry. With 12 languages to choose from and a plethora of genres – ranging from historical fiction and mythology to fantasy fiction and erotica – the platform has predominantly become women’s safe space. The biggest boom has come in Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi, and there’s now a new excitement that the next big Indian writers are likely to be discovered from here. Last month, all of its top 10 writers were women.”
So who are these women who are Pratilipi’s customers as well as its creative soul? “A physiotherapist of 13 years, Pratiksha made a 180-degree turn in order to become a full-time writer on Pratilipi. “I’d never thought of taking it up as a full-time profession,” she says. But when you combine a pandemic that forces you to be at home for months on end, a new-born baby, and an overwhelmed mother – that’s what you get.
You know exactly what you are getting: a bucketful of salacious fun. No posturing is involved. And the definition of good writing is slowly altering too — no pretensions, no writing for just the top of the pyramid. “People want to read general conversation. They’re not into literature. You have to have the ability to express feelings,” says Pratiksha.”
The gradual slide into irrelevance of the posh Indian who lives in the exclusive environs of south Delhi and south Mumbai is something that astute Indian politicians spotted a decade ago. Now publishers are waking up to it. Our discussions with publishers suggest that posh i.e. literary books written for high brow readers now accounts less than 10% of the revenues in the English book publishing market (and this is excluding test prep books which by itself are a colossal market 3x the size of normal books). With 90% of the English market now accounted for by low brow stuff – both fiction and non-fiction – the business models that work in this market are changing rapidly. This piece in the Print gives us a window into a rapidly changing multi-billion $ market which is VERY different from conventional book publishing:
“Even as the debate around what is good literature and how important is the rigour of editing rages, the importance of the audience cannot be exaggerated. Writers are held directly accountable by their readers. The review-feature on the app is a weapon that is wielded freely. Raji knows her readers well, as they give her their opinions and offer ample feedback. The final part of one of her stories, which she refers to as a family-oriented “moral” tale of a teacher, has over a thousand reviews. The story itself has a whopping 110 parts, and there are three million people who have read it. “When readers like a story, they promote it,” she says.
It is a rare level of culpability. The kind of serialised, episodic content that has now become bread and butter for writers like Raji has ardent followers who believe in their responsibility as readers. It is a unique relationship – “they are like a second family to me,” says Ratna Halder, who writes in Bengali – another one of the 12 languages Pratilipi publishes in.
She gives the example of one of her characters who features in multiple stories she has written. He has three monikers – Rocky, Aurko, and Rashid Ansari. Just as she thought his story had been completed, her readers wanted more. This led to her constructing a separate narrative, which focused on Rocky and his female counterpart, Meghna. “My readers thought he was another story. They wanted to know – how did Rashid Ansari become Rashid Ansari?” Ever at the service of her readers, Halder delivered in the form of ‘How far will you go for your love.’ It has everything, she says: “romance, crime, psychology.”
Writers on Pratilipi are attuned to the voices and feelings of their readers because they have been in the latter’s shoes. Halder, who used to teach Bengali at a school prior to quitting and becoming a full-time writer, mentions Sanghamitra Roy Choudhury, whose work she used to read on the app. “She was a Bengali teacher as well. I thought if she can do it, why not me? I didn’t feel brave enough,” she says.
Pratiksha Tripathi, who started reading on Pratilipi in 2017, recalls feeling “provoked” by the ‘write section’ on the app. Pratilipi gives aspiring authors confidence through its user-friendly interface, making an otherwise daunting profession available to everyone. It makes reading and writing go hand-in-hand.
Then, there is the added bonus of monetisation. There are three modes of earning money through the platform — the first being virtual coins, which subscribers can directly gift to the authors of their choosing. The second is a ‘super-fan’ subscription, of which the writer gets about 40-42 per cent, while the third is a ‘premium subscription’, that also gives them between 40 and 42 per cent.
Raji, a homemaker, has earned Rs two lakh through this. “It was the happiest day of my life,” she says – referring to a holiday she was able to fund for her family. Pratiksha Tripathi paints a picture of having it all – “my daughter is well taken care of, I have income, I have work satisfaction.””
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