A word that was used ad nauseum to describe 2020. Nothing that happened during the period of March to December 2020 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 were no different. With bookstores remaining closed (in some tragic cases, permanently shutting down) and e-commerce delivering only essentials (sadly nobody sees comic books as essential even in the midst of 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 16 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 per cent growth in the number of sign-ups on our app and to our surprise nearly 25 per cent 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 things that are comforting, 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 implies that readers are able to read, remain engaged and focused and read the whole comic in 20 minutes, cover to cover- the average time to read a comic book in print version would be the same.
During the pandemic we also launched a number of new titles digitally viz the Shiva Purana called Mahadeva in five parts, a number of 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 prosperity, environment notwithstanding, publishing comics is what we do best and what we hope to keep doing as long as human civilization survives.
As we enter into 2021 with hope and optimism, I look at 2020 with gratitude that our comic books and company not just survived the pandemic, but thrived and brought succour and joy to lakhs of bored and anxious souls around the globe.
(This article has been contributed by Amar Chitra Katha CEO Preeti Vyas, and Animation Xpress does not necessarily subscribe to these views)