Source: Pratham Books
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.
Blog: A resource which talks about publishing, reading, literacy, kidlit, learning, non-profits, events and more.
Twitter: A space where we can engage with the community, share ideas, ask for help, get feedback, listen to complaints, participate and mobilize people to help us with our vision of ‘a book in every child’s hand’.
Facebook: Updating information from the blog and infromation about the events we do and communicating with the community
Scribd: Uploading our books frequently so that they can be read by more people. Also, for our Creative Commons licensed books to be remixed/repurposed by the community in whatever way they wish to.
YouTube: Documentation of our work and to inform people about some of the initiatives we are participating in. Also to inform people about our books through book trailers.
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.
Example of Partham Books on mobile phones.
It's still a journey we are on and we've had many success till date - Skype reading sessions across countries, helping us get books to children across the country, audio books created for the blind, iPad apps being made of our content and so much more. Here's some details about some of social tactics:
Skype reading sessions: This project started after a few tweets were exchanged between a librarian from Central Manor, Pennsylvania. We started off by people from our organization having Skype reading sessions with a few children and then moved onto having sessions with entire classes. On 20th March, 2009, we managed to hold a Skype storytelling session between kids from Akshara Foundation’s community library and a class from Central Manor.The purpose is to go beyond being just a publisher. Through these activities we are encouraging reading, learning and connecting children from different communities and backgrounds. Channels used: Twitter, Skype, Blog
Inviting people to remix/repurpose our content: As a publisher, we have a lot of content available which we want people to access as easily as possible. In our attempt to do so, we have managed to license some of our books under Creative Commons licenses. Now, if we can’t publish a book in Assamese, but a teacher in Assam wants to do so, she doesn’t have to worry about copyright infringement. We have also put up some of the illustrations of our books so that people can remix or repurpose them. Channels used : Scribd, Blog, Flickr
Facilitators/connecting organisations and people: @Anorakmagazine found us on Twitter and asked if they could send us some back issues of their magazines to share with kids in India. Once the books arrived, they were sent to the community libraries run by Akshara Foundation. We also helped coordinate a drawing project that Anorak Magazine wanted to involve the children with. Now, some of the kids have their work published in an international children’s magazine.Channels used: Twitter
Audio books for the National Association of Blind : This project started off because of another blog post (on the Helen Keller Talking Library project) that got automatically updated to our Twitter account. @owos then messaged us to tell us about a similar intiative Radio Mirchi had started. Then another tweep (@barkhad) told us that she had registered with Radio Mirchi but they didn’t get back to her. So, we got in touch with Radio Mirchi to talk about a blog post and while we were talking, she asked if we would be interested in having our books recorded by Radio Mirchi for the National Association of the Blind. We also requested if @barkhad could record one of our books and they agreed. So, our Twitter friend went offline and recorded a book in their Delhi studio! Channels used: Blog, Twitter
Passing it on – the book edition: We read about about a bunch of kids in Kolkata who went around with a van full of books to reach kids who didn’t have access to books and even went on to teach the kids how to read. After reading about this initiative, one of our trustees volunteered to sponsor some Bengali books if we could find these kids. We mailed the news bureau which published the article, but were unable to get a response. So, we decided to see if the Twitter community could help us. Within half an hour of sending out a tweet, we had a volunteer who said he would get us the information and by the next day we had an address and contact number. Within a few days, Bengali books were sent by us to these kids.From this story, we decided to start an initiative which would allow our online community to participate…to help these kids as well as other kids. Channels used: Twitter, Blog, Facebook
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.
John Gautam works for Pratham Books is a non-profit trust that publishes high quality books for children at affordable prices and in multiple Indian languages.