[lg policy] Mobile Developer Looks To Indian Languages

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 26 20:18:26 UTC 2014

*A Mobile Developer Looks To Indian Languages*

<http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/author/priyanka-pathak-narain/> *

June 26, 2014 11:51 am

[image: Men reading a Hindi-language regional newspaper in Bhopal, Madhya
Pradesh, on May 27.]Sanjeev Gupta/European Pressphoto AgencyMen reading a
Hindi-language regional newspaper in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, on May 27.

MUMBAI — A call center worker far from his native Hyderabad; a
Chennai-based developer checking out e-books in Tamil; and a young,
homesick cab driver in Mumbai who keeps track of comings and goings in his
village in Uttar Pradesh — all are customers of a mobile news application
trying to tap into a growing market of online Indian-language readers.

NewsHunt, which can be accessed on smartphones, delivers 100 newspapers and
10,000 books in 11 Indian languages and English. It was started in 2009 by
its parent company, Verse Innovation, to serve the growing literate
population — 74 percent of India, according to the latest census.

In December of 2013, NewsHunt began offering its readers a selection of
10,000 books, adapted for mobile reading, in nine Indian languages and

But Virendra Gupta, the chief executive officer of Verse, said that while
70 percent of its users are bilingual — accessing newspapers in both
English and an Indian language — they tend to read Indian languages eight
to nine times as frequently as English content.

Umesh Kulkarni, an engineer at NewsHunt, and who studied Marathi, the
language of his native state of Maharashtra, sees an emotional pull on
customers in the product.

“When you read something in the language you grew up talking, it’s very
appealing,” he said. “Someone asks ‘kasa ahe?’ in my script, my language,
versus ‘how are you’ in English, I respond differently because there is
implied intimacy in Marathi for me.”

NewsHunt has a significant potential customer base to tap.  In India,
newspapers are growing, and so is digital media, according to the Indian
Readership Survey. In 2011, Indian media consumption grew by 3.2 percent,
and Indian Internet users by 46.7 percent, according to the survey.
International media companies have recently lined up
serve the English-speaking readership, which is a small piece of the

According to a December 2012 report by McKinsey and Company, India has the
third-largest Internet user base in the world — about 120 million Indians
go online every day.

According to NewsHunt, roughly 50 million people have NewsHunt on their
smartphones. About 11 million are active users, NewsHunt said. The
newspaper content is free for readers. For most e-books, users have to pay.

Vishal Anand, the chief product officer for NewsHunt, said NewsHunt users
have downloaded 2.5 million books from December to May. Just 13 percent of
those books are in English. Their best-selling book, “Chanakya Niti,” a
treatise written over two millennia ago by a political economist in the
ancient university of Taxila, in present-day Pakistan, sold 30,000 copies.

The company behind NewsHunt believes that this market is ripe. The December
2012 McKinsey survey reported that the number of Internet users could grow
to between 330 and 370 million by the end of 2015.

Newspapers give full access to their feeds of stories to NewsHunt for free.
The company splits the advertising revenues with the newspaper.

NewsHunt receives e-book versions of each book they sell from the
publisher, and when none is available, some of the roughly 80 developers on
staff type the entire book into a mobile-compatible format by hand.

While revenues have tripled in the last year for NewsHunt, the business has
yet to turn a profit.

“Everything is put back in the business,” said Virendra Gupta, the founder
and chief executive officer of Verse Innovation. “We are very focused on
penetrating the market.”

Mr. Gupta said that more that profits right now, they were looking at
gaining users at where the growth in mobile Internet in India would likely

“Mobile Internet is happening, smartphones are getting cheap, and your
English speaking mobile Internet users will tap out at 100 million,” said
Mr. Gupta. “If mobile Internet grows to 400 million, it will be on local
languages.  So we are building up for the future.”

Piyush Prabhat, the director of Prabhat Publications, which mostly
publishes Hindi books, said that one of his company’s books, “Master
English,” was barely selling, but after being on NewsHunt, “Suddenly, 7,000
people bought it.”

Amish Tripathi is the author of a trilogy of English-language novels based
on the imagined mortal life of Shiva, a Hindu god, that sold two million
copies, including many in various translations, according to Mr. Tripathi’s
website <http://www.authoramish.com/about.html>.

“Distribution is such a challenge, which is why what NewsHunt is doing is
so important,” Mr. Tripathi said.

Mr. Anand is careful to qualify the praise — the 100 publishers they use is
only a dent in the thousands of publishers that exist in India.
Chiki Sarkar, editor in chief of Random House India, said this shift to
reading books on mobile phones is inevitable.  “NewsHunt seems to have made
an impact on regional literature. E-books on smartphones is the way it’s
going,” she said.

forwarded from wfierman at indiana.edu


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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