Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Ranjeet Pratap Singh is the co-founder and CEO of Pratilipi, the largest community of readers and writers in India, with 3,60,000 writers and over 25 million monthly readers in 12 Indian languages and regions. The platform has received 50 lakh stories in total so far, at an incredible rate of new 2 lakh stories every month. Thanks to Pratilipi, Ranjeet has created a space for young writers and readers of Indian literature to read and write stories in their regional languages for free.
Last week, Pratilipi announced the acquisition of India’s largest anthology publishers – The Write Order, which will additionally offer a fully functional publishing arm. Timesnownews.com with Ranjeet on next generation reading habits and the way forward for his business.
Akrita Reyar: What was the basic idea behind Pratilipi? It might not have been the first of its kind in terms of ideas, however, how did you do it with over 3.6 lakh of writers and 25 million monthly readers?
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: The main idea behind Pratilipi is essentially access. Access to reading should not be restricted. The basic premise is that if you want to share a story with the rest of the world, the language, geography, format, money, and technical knowledge shouldn’t be barriers. Today, we are India’s largest digital platform connecting readers and writers in 12 different Indian languages, witnessing approximately five million stories, created by over 370,000 writers and read by 30 million of people. I think that several aspects have helped Pratilipi to retain and develop its users. We have constantly worked to provide a better user experience for our readers and writers in terms of product and customer service, which has helped us maintain a good app rating. Perhaps more importantly, until about a year ago, we were only focusing on our core offering, which is a read and write platform. I think when a company tries to do two or three things at once, their core offering doesn’t stay that strong. We have built a platform that allows users to interact with each other. For example, conversations between experienced writers and newbie writers have helped newbie writers develop their talent. And in the same way, readers could also help engage writers through their constant comments and reviews. Another thing that seems to have worked in Pratilipi’s favor is its recommendation engine, which is able to suggest interesting content to users.
Akrita Reyar: Why do you think investors trusted your project so much? You have raised $ 78.8 million so far. And now you have acquired India’s biggest anthology publishers – The Write Order. Tell us about it.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: When we launched we certainly knew there was a bigger problem to solve and to this day we have partnered with investors who believed in our idea. It was never about money but about partnering with the right people who believed in Pratilipi and had a long-term vision to build Pratilipi with us. Over the past 12-18 months, we’ve seen a lot of progress, expanding into new formats and finding new ways for our creators to be successful. We are always delighted and privileged to partner with investors who share our love of great stories and intellectual property. Pratilipi was founded with the mission of creating a vibrant community of Indian language writers and readers. Since our founding, we’ve been committed to providing aspiring writers with an accessible platform to publish their work while simultaneously creating a dynamic forum for readers to meaningfully interact with the content and with each other. It is every writer’s dream to be published in print, and we’re excited to be able to help make this a reality with the acquisition of The Write Order.
Akrita Reyar: Your next logical step was to develop web series and audiobooks. While the pandemic has made the web series the next big thing in entertainment, audiobooks are also growing in popularity – how are you going to capitalize on them. Also, how do you select the works to convert?
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: Today we have Pratilipi Literature, Pratilipi FM and Pratilipi Comics. People like to consume content in different formats according to their tastes and so we have even made a foray into the multimedia format. The three main formats we have today are audio, video, and text. The text is great because it is easy to navigate and it fires your imagination. No matter how many details a writer provides, there are some blank spaces that can be filled. Videos are the other extreme, it’s hard to navigate but it’s relatively easier to consume. The audio is somewhere in between, it’s incredibly difficult to navigate. Ask any podcast creator who isn’t already a famous name! Otherwise, it is very difficult to increase the discoverability of the audio. On the other hand, the involvement is less because you can also drive a car or go for a run while listening to audio. So as a result, we can demarcate a separate platform for each piece of content. We just want to offer more choice. You want to read it in book format, it will be on Pratilipi; you want to listen to it in podcast; You will find it here ; or if you want to read it in comic form, that too will have a space on Pratilipi. To see it another way, our own audio company is also competing with Pratilipi.
Akrita Reyar: What made you give up your usual job at Vodafone? Describe some influences you had as a child that helped you make the change.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: I come from a lower middle class family who were very clear that I needed to find a stable job first. It meant getting an MBA. So I found a job at Vodafone and was doing pretty well. That’s when I thought to myself, if you’re doing so well at 24, then you’ve got to do something wrong. Therefore, I quit. I grew up in a small village in Uttar Pradesh. I was a voracious reader and used to finish some 140 books a year, from Hindi comics to classical and contemporary literature. When I left home for my engineering, I realized that Hindi content was not readily available. Although I have switched to English content, I have always believed that people should be able to read in the language of their choice. I used to complain about this problem to my batch colleagues, my colleagues at Vodafone and they would tell me that if you think this is a problem you can create something to take care of these drives. I got together with a few of the people from my Vodafone era, my teammates who believed in the problem, and we set out to build India’s biggest storytelling platform.
Akrita Reyar: How would you describe the growth of the space of different Indian languages in writing? Are regional languages gaining respect, namely English, which continues to have a kind of snobbish factor? English authors are also the best paid.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: Both in our experience with Pratilipi and in our conversations with other authors and editors, we believe that reading and writing in Indian languages is developing much faster than English. In Pratilipi, languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu are developing more than twice as fast as English. We believe that English writers still receive more respect and better income than Indian writers, but that is changing fast. On Pratilipi, the 10 highest paid writers as well as the most followed writers write in Indian languages.
Akrita Reyar: How well have you been able to understand India better through your project and your conversations with writers across the country.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: Our greatest learning has been that India is a very large and diverse country. Apart from that, we believe that we have barely started to understand the complexity and nuances of India, not only through our conversations with our writers and readers, but also through various data points around their creation and of their consumption. We hope to spend a lot more time and bandwidth to understand India better over the next couple of years.
Akrita Reyar: Will reading become a dead habit for generations to come? They will turn to social media and WhatsApp for information and conversations.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: Reading can be done both ways: having a physical book to read or reading it online. So, I don’t think reading habits are dead. In fact, social media platforms are very useful in reaching more audiences / readers. If you read a story on Pratilipi and like the content, you can immediately send the link to the story to your friend on Whatsapp and he / she will just have to click on the story to read it. The formats and models may have changed, but the playback can never be deleted. Another trend we have seen is the adaptation of books into web series or movies that keeps audiences interested in reading the book after watching the movie or before watching it.
Akrita Reyar: Are translations popular in terms of consumption and can they become a very robust tool for intercultural exchange within different regions of the country?
Ranjeet Pratap Singh: We have translated a few stories in the past and will continue to do more in the future. Again, my theory is pretty straightforward, if a story is well received in one language, chances are it will be well received in other languages as well. Reading broadens your horizon, and certainly there is scope for cultural exchange when you read translated stories.