Find poems, short stories and novels on the platform, which has over 2.7 lakh writers and more than 2.5 crore readers
Ranjeet Pratap Singh (32), co-founder and CEO of Pratilipi, a homegrown storytelling platform, and Sumit Menaria, one of its star authors — whose novel is scheduled to be published on February 25 — share few similarities. While Singh is an engineer who grew up in Fattepur, a small village in Uttar Pradesh, Menaria is a chartered accountant who hails from Udaipur in Rajasthan. What bonds the two, however, is a love of books and Pratilipi.
The idea for the storytelling platform had gestated for many years, says Singh. While studying engineering in Bhubaneshwar, he had found that not only was the availability of Hindi content (offline) limited, but it was also practically non-existent online. “I would crib that it should be my choice to read something in English; it should not be because of lack of access,” he says, recalling that the pursuit of a career had him pushing aside thoughts about how to resolve the problem. But when he quit an unchallenging job a few years ago, he decided to do something about it. And so, Pratilipi (a Sanskrit word meaning copy) was born.
Incorporated in 2015, it now boasts 2.7 lakh writers in 12 Indian languages, including Hindi, English, Urdu, and Odia, and has over 2.5 crore readers. “The idea behind it was very simple. We wanted to build a platform where anybody can publish their work, in any language, set in any place. While there is some public domain content [such as Jane Austen’s works], 99% is fresh, contemporary content published by new writers,” he says. The most popular format is the long story/novel.
The ‘write’ stuff
Menaria (29), who joined Pratilipi in 2017, had started off writing poems and short stories. Following good reviews, he then decided to write a novel in Hindi, Tashree: Don’t look into her eyes. Its success — with a total readership of 74,924 and a rating of 4.7 — has led to the book deal with Bhopal-based Manjul Publishing House and a comic book with Pratilpi Comics (launched in February 2020). “It isn’t the usual love story,” says Menaria, who was pleasantly surprised by the response to Tashree. “It is the story of a college girl, but then it becomes a thriller and later it turns spiritual.”
As it turns out, thrillers and romances do well on the site. Did 2020 reveal any new trends, especially with more people turning to reading during the lockdown? “If you look at the various regions and languages, there are a lot of differences in what genres people like. But the top are suspense/thriller, romance and horror,” says Singh, who used to devour Champak and Nanhe Samrat as a boy before moving on to classics by Premchand, Nirala and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. “We also have a lot of stories that aren’t very popular in the offline world, such as historical fiction, which got a boost during the lockdown.”
Picking the story for you
Interestingly, Pratilipi gathers data about everything, including where someone stopped reading a book. “We look at about 130 different parameters to create our personalisation recommendation, the most important of which is the completion rate. The basic understanding is that we don’t want to be a ‘click-baity’ platform where people put up an attractive image and a few good pages, but after that goes on about nothing. We try to focus on [good] content, which is why the completion rate is one of the most important parameters.”
Singh shares that any work that’s uploaded on the site has to be original or something that the writer owns the copyright to. “Also, any content that goes against Indian laws is not allowed, such as pornography and hate speech.” I tell him that I had come across a story that seemed to violate one of these norms. What happens to such content? “Readers can flag anything that violates our terms of service, and our content moderation team will take it down. We have also built different tools into the platform that figure out which content should be weeded out,” he says. “At the first violation, the content is deleted and the author gets a warning; with the second violation, the author’s account is suspended.”
Pratilipi recently announced a partnership with entertainment company Yali DreamWorks to develop and co-produce a web series based on a book trilogy — Murdo Ki Train, Shaitan Se Samjhauta and Niya — by author Varsha Srivastava. There are several other big plans for the future too. “We began working on securing licensing opportunities with third party content platforms about a year ago and, for the last six months, we have begun to see these opportunities come to fruition. Along with Storytel and Manjul, we have an exciting licensing opportunity that I cannot talk about just yet. But all will be revealed very soon.”
Meanwhile, people have been contacting Menaria for advice. “I tell everyone to start writing and to put it on Pratilipi, where they will get genuine readers.” And he is walking the talk; he finished his second novel, Anamika, last year.