The average ticket size for children's books has increased from Rs 200 a few years back to Rs 500 today, Manas Mohan tells Sangeeta Tanwar
ACK Media has launched Tinkle comic characters in animated avatars on YouTube. As a publisher, what are the opportunities that you see in the digital space?
Debuting with Tinkle characters on YouTube has been a very logical and natural move for ACK Media. In fact, our tryst with animation started six years ago when we showcased an ACK animated series on Doordarshan. The series was co-produced with Cartoon Network (CN). We followed it up with the Tripura series on CN and then came out with our first animated theatrical, Sons of Ram, which saw a lot of traction. With ACK boasting of a plethora of characters, the digital space is a parallel stream of business for the company. Unlike television, the digital media gives the audience the power to access new as well as the old content, all at one place. As of now, we have launched three characters on YouTube - Suppandi, Shambu and Defective detectives. Going forward, we will introduce more characters from our portfolio on YouTube.
How has been your experience with mobile as a publishing platforms? How has it helped ACK expand its readership?
ACK has its own website and we also have a strong presence on various e-commerce publishing platforms such as Flipkart, Amazon, FirstCry and Infibeam among others. In the e-commerce space, we are integrated with the largest children's product line. Importantly, despite all the noise around e-commerce publishing websites, ACK's own website attracts more consumer interest. About 40 per cent of our business comes from sales from our own website. This year, we are hopeful that our website sales will go up by 100 per cent.
The second part of our mobile and digital strategy is ACK's mobile app, which was launched a year ago. As a publisher, it's challenging to provide the right consumer experience to readers through the app since it supports a lot of titles, pictorials. Next, we plan to introduce a library to facilitate lending of titles on the app. Our app has been gaining traction among readers without us having to spend huge marketing money on it.
The third focus area for us is the distribution of digital content on digital platforms, including pushing magazines on Magzter, making titles available on YouTube and revamping the Tinkle website.
As a publisher ACK has been known for its illustrated books. However, ACK recently launched Counter Theft, its first novel in 50 years sans illustration under a new imprint, ACK Stories Alive. Could you explain this shift in ACK's publishing strategy?
We now have three generations of Indians who have grown up reading ACK titles and this goes to show that there is a certain interest for Indic-oriented story telling. It's an opportunity that has been explored by other publishers and we realised that ACK was losing out in this genre. Our move into this genre (Indic-oriented story telling) was long overdue. Since, this genre presented a huge opportunity, ACK's strategy has been to take Indic stories and move them to non-illustrated presentation. We took the non-illustrated route for two reasons. First, illustrated books cost a lot of money. And since one cannot pass on the cost to readers, it was best for us to come out with a non-illustrated title. Second, the time to market also played an important role in coming up with the non-illustrated product. Another consideration for us was the fact that illustrated comics take longer to read, therefore, to get access to adult readers who by and large would be hard pressed for time, it would be best to come up with a light reading black and white product. So, going between an adult, illustrated product and a non-illustrated product we took the decision to go ahead with the latter. That is not to say that we will not go for illustrated storytelling for adults.
With publications in seven regional languages, ACK is a strong player in the regional language space? What are the challenges associated with publishing children's books in regional languages?
Our foothold in regional language publishing is very strong. However, in our opinion, the regional language space is remarkably under staffed. The market is under supplied and lacks quality. From that perspective, our effort is to present a whole new option for children with high-quality well-researched titles. The challenge fundamentally lays in distribution. A lot of these markets are used to carrying inexpensive and poor quality content. A lot of ACK's language products sell well in the tier I and tier II cities. But as we go deeper into tier III and tier IV cities, we run into the challenge of titles low on content and presentation. Addressing this challenge by maintaining an eye on costs is critical in our scheme of things. We are working hard to expand the regional market and taken initiatives including in-house distribution of our titles.
What is going to be the next big trend in the children's publishing space?
The publishing space for children is going to see bigger and better products. We will see the industry putting in more money behind paper, colour and the look of the products. The market has grown with the average ticket size increasing from Rs 200 five years back to Rs 500 today. Families are opting for larger and better products.