• Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Interview With Preeti Vyas- President and CEO of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.


on Mar 04, 2022
Interview

Preeti Vyas is the President and the CEO of Amar Chitra Katha Pvt. Ltd.; and the publisher of the iconic Amar Chitra Katha comics, Tinkle magazine, and National Geographic India. She is also the Founder of FunOKPlease Publishing which creates contemporary Indian content for children. 

Through her 26-year-long career, she has been a retailer, publisher, editor, author, and entrepreneur. Preeti is a seasoned bibliophile who believes the solution to any problem in life can be found within the pages of a book somewhere. She believes passionately in the power of children’s books to shape the future of India and the world.

She is a practicing Buddhist and lives in Mumbai with her 12-year-old son, a fantasy fiction enthusiast, Neel.

Frontlist: You’ve been associated with Publishing Industry for many years now. How was your experience throughout your journey?

Preeti: From growing up in a family of bibliophiles to spending a 26-years career surrounded by content, it has truly been an amazing ride. I have had the good fortune of participating in every aspect of a book’s life through the various hats I have donned as an author, editor, retailer, marketer, licensor, licensee, and publisher. The content and publishing space is growing rapidly in the digital era, and I feel like my journey has just started. Getting an opportunity to lead a company and a brand that is a persisting part of the childhood of millions of Indians is one of the biggest blessings of my life. I believe in karma, and I am convinced that this role, leading ACK into a new digital age, is due to the good karmas of many past lives!

Frontlist: How do Children’s Books shape the future of India and the world?

Preeti: Books not only help develop a child’s intellect and creativity but shape the mind as well. Reading books helps the development of individual identity and personality. It also builds awareness, empathy, respect, and eventually, character. As the famous quote says, “Readers are leaders”. If we want the future of the world to be more peaceful, kind, and curious, we must encourage the reading habit among children with a fervent passion.

Frontlist: Our generation has changed immensely. Content penetration has also changed among children. How do book publishers like ACK create content to inculcate Indian values within their minds?  

Preeti: At Amar Chitra Katha, we have been telling stories for over 5 decades, shaping a proud Indian identity and love for our past, a route to our roots. We take our place in a child’s life as a serious responsibility and realize that parents and educationists are looking at us to provide the right values through our books. We are a route to your roots. That is what our mission is - to provide Indian children with a crucial link to their past. Children today are growing up in a globalized, shrinking world with non-stop stimulation across platforms and relentless media exposure. Indian children today need, more than ever before, to get to know their heritage and roots. While it is important that they are confident global citizens, it is equally important for them to own a proud Indian identity. After all, as they say, ‘If you don’t know where you are coming from, how will you know where you are going?’

The challenge, according to me, is to make children read Indian content as well, especially those who are  are growing up watching content from Disney and Marvel. At Amar Chitra Katha, we see this as the ultimate challenge- to get today’s children to pick up our comic books, not because their parents are buying them, but because they find it engaging and fun to read. We do this in multiple ways:

  1. By choosing themes and topics which are relevant and of interest to today’s children and writing them in a style that appeals to them.
  2. Adapting and evolving our art style to suit the artistic sensibility of this decade. We have the best technology available now and make sure our brilliant artists can create world-class art without losing the iconic Amar Chitra Katha visual language.
  3. Using the latest digital platforms to allow children to experience storytelling on multiple platforms, be it our apps, Kindle, YouTube, or podcasts. We are storytellers first and then publishers.
  4. Every child does not need to read the same popular book/author. My advice is to allow children to pick the titles that they would like to read. Every child may not want to read fiction. There are so many titles and different genres. Allow the child to explore and discover their likes and dislikes. 

      5. Don’t compare with the reading levels of other children or with your level when you were               their age, as every child will eventually find their comfort level and happiness zone.

 

Frontlist: How do you envision Amar Chitra Katha after the pandemic and in the coming years? How has the pandemic affected the Indian Publishing Industry? How did your company deal with the challenges of doing business during COVID-19?

Preeti: Unprecedented.

A word that was used ad nauseam to describe 2020-21. Nothing that happened during the pandemic had ever been experienced by the world before (and hopefully will never again be experienced either). With markets closed, customers were spending only on the bare essentials- food and medicines and business came to a standstill. On top of this was omnipresent fear, panic, and stress in the environment casting an ominous gloom over all industries.

The comic book and publishing industry in India was no different. With book stores remaining closed (in some tragic cases, permanently shutting down) and e-commerce delivering only essentials (sadly nobody sees comic books as essential even amid a mental health crisis), the comic book industry and book publishers were forced to innovate. Covid-19 exacerbated a long-overdue digital transformation of many industries and companies, and we were one of them.

On the 16th of March 2020, in response to the announcement of schools being shut indefinitely, we announced a campaign offering free access to all our books on the Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle apps. Honestly, it wasn’t a deeply thought out marketing tactic- it was simply us trying to do something to alleviate the boredom and sadness that a whole nation full of children were experiencing as they entered their favourite summer vacation period.

The results were phenomenal. We saw a nearly 300% growth in the number of sign-ups on our app, and to our surprise, nearly 25% of the new users were from outside India. And not just children, we found adults signing up too.

During stressful times, it is human tendency to reach out for comforting things, be it comfort food, music or content. Comfort helps alleviate anxiety. And comics like Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle fall right into this category. We found Indian parents from all over the world downloading our apps and enjoying our content along with their children. Our newly launched ACK Learn Workshops also saw a fabulous response with children of all ages signing up to learn creative writing, listen to stories, learn Indian folk art, make their own comic books, and engage with our awesome editorial teams.

We had parents writing to us, telling us that they are using the screen mirroring function on their app to cast the content on a big screen, thus enabling the whole family to enjoy reading our comics together. This is a whole new way of enjoying a comic book, which is possible digitally and not possible in a physical form. And this would not have been possible had the pandemic not forced us to innovate and improvise. The screen mirroring function was always available, but previously there was no need for a parent to enable their children to read a comic book on a screen- a physical copy was always easily available.

We have also observed that the reading time on the app is excellent. The average reading time on our app has been nearly 20 minutes which is remarkable. This demonstrates that readers can remain engaged and focused and read the whole comic in 20 minutes, including covers. The average time to read a comic book in print version would be the same as reading it online.

During the pandemic, we also launched several new titles digitally, viz. the Shiva Purana called Mahadeva in 5 parts, many folk tales, a comic on the life of Vikram Sarabhai, and a three-part series in collaboration with the Indian Navy. At Tinkle, we released fresh stories every week in addition to hosting our superb archival content on the app. We also released the first-ever Tinkle Gold, a collector’s print edition of Tinkle with all-new stories. On the new content creation front, it was business as usual for us.

This pace of digital growth we have experienced will not slow down. Consumers are adapting to a new way of life post-COVID, and the business environment will keep on evolving. As storytellers, we are agnostic to the medium. We are happy regardless of the medium readers choose to read our content, whether it is physically, digitally, or listen to them through podcasts or watch an animated version of the story. Pandemic or prosperous, environment notwithstanding, publishing comics is what we do best and hope to keep doing as long as human civilization survives. 

As we enter into 2021 with hope and optimism, I look at this period with gratitude that our comic books and company not just survived the pandemic, but thrived and brought succor and joy to lakhs of Indian readers across the world. 

 

Frontlist: The name of Uncle Pai is synonymous with Indian comics and Amar Chitra Katha. How is the current team at ACK taking his amazing legacy forward?

Preeti: Uncle Pai was a genius. Every generation has a few iconic trailblazers who define that era, and our founder was definitely one of them. The impact of Uncle Pai’s work on helping a whole generation of Indians take pride in their own stories is priceless. As we get ready to celebrate #UnclePaiDay on 17th September, we see our mission as two-fold:

  1. Keeping the Legacy Alive: Ensuring that the comics created during his lifetime remain alive, widely disseminated, and read by a new generation is crucial. In this Netflix world, where we are constantly bombarded, with stimulation from around the world, our comics play a pivotal role in enabling children to connect with their Indian roots. We have revived some of the foundations on which Uncle built the company- a vibrant school contact program, the iconic Amar Chitra Quiz, a pan India Storyteller Circle, to name a few. Our books are in multiple languages, and we continue to sell a million+ copies of Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle in their printed versions every year.
  2. Taking the Legacy Forward: It’s not enough to rest on the laurels of the past. Here are a few things we are doing to take Uncle’s legacy forward.
  3. We continue to tell new stories with the same ethos as Uncle Pai. A new edition of Tinkle is published every week. At Amar Chitra Katha, we publish about 500 pages a year with new titles such as ACK Juniors, Param Vir Chakra, Shiv Purana, and Women Path Breakers of India. Our creative functions are still helmed by people who were mentored by Uncle.
  4. longer a ‘servant’. Many new characters like Wingstar and Yog Yodhas have helped us connect with a new generation of readers.
  5. We have truly embraced the digital platform and are passionate about being present on any platform where content is being consumed. Our apps have over 1.2 million users, with a significant global presence. Tinkle is now released weekly on the app, along with many interactive elements. On average, in 3 months, 10 million of our books are read on the apps. We have podcasts, animated videos, skills on Alexa, and online workshops on ACK Learn.
  6. We partner with Government, armed forces, and public-private collaborations to create books that power social transformation and impact. Uncle Pai would have been happy to see the actual pages of our comics reprinted within the pages of history textbooks these days.

Uncle Pai’s passion, perseverance, and vision continue to guide us every single day. We hope he is looking down upon us and smiling at our tenacity and all our experiments and innovations!

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