Note from Beth: During my trip to India in February, I was introduced to a nonprofit children’s book publisher in India, Pratham Books. “It was set up to fill a gap in the market for good quality, reasonably priced children’s books in a variety of Indian languages. [Its] mission is to make books affordable for every child in India.” I was impressed with how Pratham Books has used social media to reach out to children in rural areas who are the “Bottom of the Pyramid.” In ongoing conversations with John Gautam on Twitter, I’ve learned more about how their overall social publishing strategy which balances their curated content or “branded” content with community conversations to co-create social content. He offered to write a guest post sharing more about how their social publishing strategy.
India has a reading problem and the problem is two fold. The first part of the problem is that India still has low literacy rates – the 2009 Annual Status of Education Report shows that between classes 1 to 8 only around 40% of children can read a class 2 level text in their own language and an even lower 23% of children can ready easy sentences in English – sentences of the kind “What is your name?” That said, there are wonderful organizations working with State Governments to improve literacy and reading levels across the country such as Pratham and the Akshara Foundation and much progress has been made. However, once children learn how to read it is crucial to sustain their interest by cultivating a reading habit and while the aim was to provide a book in every child’s hand and a library in every neighbourhood we found that there was a dire shortage of high-quality, low-cost children’s books. To fill this gap that existed in the market, the Pratham Books Trust was registered in January 2004.
Since then, we have published and shipped over 8.5 million books, 10 million storycards and have reached over 8 million children. While that in itself probably qualifies us as one of India’s largest children’s book publishers, when compared to the scale of the problem – over 300 million children in India – it is still a minuscule effort. We began our journey two years ago while trying to figure out a possible catalytic approach to the children’s book publishing space. First, we have our goal which is a book in every child’s hand. And logical corollary to that, that the books should be in a language the children read. Second, we looked at the problems that the market currently faces, lack of scale, lack of languages, lack of content, lack of reach and expensive distribution channels. Hence, our three primary, social media or social publishing, aims are to increase the nett content available, reduce the cost of each book and to go beyond the traditional distribution networks in a large way. This is crucial if we all believe in “A Book in Every Child’s Hand” and consequently, it implies the need to create alternate channels of creating and reaching books to children.An important ingredient to our strategy was building a community around our mission. As an adjunct to this, we realised that what we had was content, lot of it and very valuable content, that we could use to form a community around. We have since used our mission and our content to establish conversation based around a larger “reading” mission and over time and with sustained engagement, hope to build some sort of loyalty and trust within the community we curate.
Our strategy has relied upon being part of a larger mission, providing meaningful and valuable content, curating information and content for the community, using a legal framework that allows for a participatory culture and lastly, in time, providing a space for the community to assist in the mission by creating content themselves. The last part, a community publishing platform, is something we are working on with the Connexions Project and a brief video about it is here.
What we’ve found is that honestly, transparency and accountability are the three most important elements of any social media strategy. A longer case study that we had written up is available on the IndiaSocial site.