Regional language self-publishing platform Pratilipi recently raised $48 million in a Series D round led by South Korean gaming platform Krafton. The startup was founded in 2015 by Ranjeet Pratap Singh, Rahul Ranjan, Sankarnarayan Devarajan, Sahradayi Modi and Prashant Gupta. Pratilipi is a self-publishing and audiobooks portal that houses various Indian languages like Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Gujrati, Marathi, and Bengali, Urdu, and English.
Pratilipi has over 3.5 lakh (0.35 million) writers and has published over 4.5 million stories in ten Indian languages. In addition, the platform has over 28.5 million monthly active readers. The company also has other products under its belt, including Pratilipi literature, Pratilipi comics, and Pratilipi FM. The comics and FM categories have over 8 lakh and 3 lakh active users, respectively.
In an interview with Moneycontrol, Ranjeet Pratap Singh spoke about competition, content moderation and how the pandemic has affected Pratilipi. Edited Excerpts:
Q: How is Pratilipi any different from a physical book?
A: From a writer's perspective, you have to wait to publish a book. One cannot publish chapter by chapter, as opposed to Pratilipi, where you don't have to wait for two years to write a book. An author can start publishing one chapter, and they can interact with their readers and fellow writers to see which part of the story their audience can relate with and mold the story accordingly.
I am a massive Game of Thrones fan from a reader's perspective, and I have been waiting for a decade for the next book to come out. I don't have to do that with Pratilipi.
Secondly, I can support the writer directly, not just monetarily but also through talking to them and giving them feedback, and I can also connect with other fans of the same story and author and talk to them. This is the significant difference between the writers and readers' perspectives.
Q: How will Pratilipi inculcate a long-form reading habit amongst this generation of readers?
A: Forget about long-form, forget about reading. It's more like if you are interested in reading, watching, or listening to something can I provide you with access to it. We are not trying to change consumer behavior, if that happens, it's excellent, but that's not what we are trying to do. All we aim to do is if you want to read, you should have access to it. In our case, for example, we have now started publishing traditional books and comics.
Q: What is your business/revenue model?
A: We think of Pratilipi as a holding company, where we will have multiple products. Hopefully, these will become independent public companies in the future. So that means different products will have other cost structures, monetization models, teams, etc. I will start with literature because that is what Pratilipi is known for; today, there are three revenue models, and there is a fourth one which we will launch some time.
At the top tier, if a story is compelling, we will acquire the rights for the story and pay the writers, and we will get the revenue share. That will leverage into different formats, including our comics and audio and some via licensing to a movie, a Netflix show, a series in MX Player, a game.
In these cases, the company will pay us upfront or will give us a revenue share. Another form of monetization is called a creative subscription, which we launched about three months back. If you want to support a creator, you can subscribe to the creator and get some exclusive features like early access to content, and through this, some money goes to the creator, and some money comes to Pratilipi.
One also can subscribe to Pratilipi as a whole called, Pratilipi Premium where you get all the quantity related benefits where some money comes to Pratilipi and some money goes to the writers. Another form of monetization is if one likes a story but not enough to subscribe, and then a reader can give a virtual gift where again money is split between Pratilipi and the writer. This is what we have for literature right now.
For comics, we have early paper access. Comics are released on a weekly schedule, so if a reader wants to read the next chapter early, they can pay a small amount of money and will be able to read, but for those who can wait, the same chapter will be available for free in the following week. Finally, for IVM, it's primarily trans-advertising. We also want to launch a podcast subscription bill, but as of now, it's not available yet.
Q: What scale is required for you to think of Pratilipi as an unmitigated success?
A: Unlike an enterprise, where some company gets a million dollars in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and you know the company is working, consumer trends are different; you don't know till you get to a vast scale. My best guess is that maybe somewhere around 50-60 million users will get to the point where the business is working.
I think the network gets easier at 50 million users. The network starts kicking in at a million Monthly Active Users (users) and at 10 million mau, one can start seeing the numbers where explanation of the business is not necessary. At 50 million MAU things just magically fall into place.
Q: Is content moderation a priority? For example, can erotica be a part of what one writes and consumes?
A: There are three kinds of things people like in erotica. One is pornography which is illegal in India. The second is soft porn which you would see a lot in user-generated content (UGC) and quasi UGC OTT platforms. The third is what is actual erotica. Porn is not allowed in Pratilipi.
We have a data model that tries and predicts if something is pornography, and the system will block the content on the first mistake and delete the author's account on the second mistake. So erotica and soft porn are mostly not allowed. These genres, too, will fall under the first category.
Erotica is more of a strategic choice; for example, for English content it would be treated like any other content, but for Indian languages, the story's visibility will be restricted. I am not against erotica, but we want the platform to have more diversity, and most of the writers of Indian languages are first-time writers, so we want to bring in the diversity.
Q: Is there an editorial team to pre-qualify the publication of stories?
A: We have automated data models, so pornography is a tiny part of it; our biggest problem is copyright violation. We have many data models that try to weed out content that is illegal in one way. We will try to find out which content violates any of the copyright rules, and in all cases, the first time the mistake is identified, the content is deleted. The writer is given a warning the second time it happens, the author's profile is blocked.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for Pratilipi?
A: The biggest challenge is always finding the best people to work with you and how you keep pushing them to become better, motivated, and take on challenges.