Amar Chitra Katha: Keeping the legacy alive and taking it forward

Amar Chitra Katha was founded in 1967 by Anant Pai and is a household name in India. Here, Preeti Vyas, Chief Executive Officer and President at Amar Chitra Katha, shares more about this wonderful publishing house in conversation with Varsha Verma.

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Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) is synonymous with the visual reinvention of Indian stories from the great epics, mythology, history, literature, oral folktales and many other sources.

“The founder of Amar Chitra Katha – Anant Pai – had some experience in comics and journalism. It so happened that he was once watching a quiz show and the quiz master asked a question on Greek mythology, which the kids answered correctly. When they were asked a question about Ramayana, they failed to answer it. He was really shocked that our kids knew so little about Indian mythology, their own culture, while knowing so much about a foreign culture. This was his inspiration to create Amar Chitra Comics and the brand vision he crafted for Amar Chitra Katha still remains unchanged – Amar Chitra Katha is a “Route to your roots,” says Preeti Vyas, Chief Executive Officer and President at Amar Chitra Katha.

The journey…

“In 1980, in order to give Indian children a way to connect with contemporary stories, he created Tinkle magazine with its promise of “Where Learning meets fun.” Tinkle celebrated its 40th anniversary in November 2020 and continues to enlighten and entertain children of a new generation,” she adds.

“Over the years, there have been different management changes and many challenges, but our values and ethos continue to remain the same. We are fortunate to have industry legends like Reena Puri (our Executive editor of Amar ChItra Katha) and Savio Mascarenhas (our Group Art Director) who have been with the company for nearly 3 decades, mentored by Uncle Pai himself, continue to create stories with the same passion today as during Uncle Pai’s days,” says Preeti.

“In 2011, we acquired the Indian licence for National Geographic and we publish National Geographic Traveller India and the iconic National Geographic magazine,” she adds.

Why comics work

“For comic books, simplicity is the essence. A lot of research has been done to prove that learning is most effective and powerful when children recall facts in the form of comics. The most cutting edge brain science and research show that for optimum learning and knowledge retention, one should have fun in the process. Comic books rely on beautiful art in narrating the story. The art and words go hand in hand. The experience is quick, fun and holds your attention, keeping the reader glued to the book till the very end,” says Preeti.

“Amar Chitra Katha is known for its iconic art over the years and we continue to retain its essential individuality while pushing the envelope and adapting to the sensibilities and tastes of today’s generation of readers,” she adds.

The statistics & milestones…

“A comic book Single is 32 pp, while a Tinkle comic is of 48 pp. It takes around 18-24 months for one ACK book to be produced from inception to final print as we do a lot of research and fact checking before releasing a new book,” she shares.

“We sell more than a million ACK comics every year in print. For Tinkle, we have a strong readership of over a lac a month. Readers of NGM and NGT are also passionate fans and we recently published the 100th issue of National Geographic Traveller. Through our digital avatars we reach over 1.5 million readers, across the globe. The average read time on all our apps is between 18-20 mins, a really healthy statistic. We also launched a few digital titles like Life of Vikram Sarabhai, Mahadev (Shiva Purana), and Maritime Heritage of India (in collaboration with the Indian Navy). We also launched the ACK quiz and Tinkle Game Show during the lockdown. A lot of digital innovations happened during the pandemic, which helped us get through this difficult period,” says Preeti

The expansion…

Today, Amar Chitra Katha is a cultural phenomenon, boasting of more than 400 comics in 20+ languages that have sold over 100 million copies to date. “We have expanded our base beyond the realms of print, with a robust library of digital content as well, over the years, including multiple TV shows, web series, podcasts, mobile apps, Alexa skills and movies,” adds Preeti.

“We have our podcasts on multiple platforms. We have a collaboration with an NGO called Salaam Bombay, which is recording our stories in Hindi and Marathi by 12-13 year old underprivileged kids. These kids have an amazing earthy style,” she adds.

“We also have a web series with Supandi in the works, which might be released in 2021. Our books are available in almost every Indian and many international languages, like French, Spanish, Portuguese, the latest being Roman Bhojpuri. Our Indian stories are timeless and there is a thirst for knowledge and values from these stories by Indian parents for their children,” she adds. “We are constantly adopting new technologies and platforms to make our stories accessible to Indian children, in whatever format they choose to consume them.”

Distribution…

“Physical distribution happens through regular traditional book trade channels with large distributors, chain stores as well as individual stores buying directly from us. ACK has a unique position as it is a ‘pull’ product — there is a consistent and natural demand for our books. Ecommerce has become very significant and it is growing rapidly especially after the pandemic. We have our own app and are also present on ereading platforms like Kindle and Magzter. Our revenue splits are almost equal for both print and digital channels,” tells Preeti.

Print or digital- The comic dilemma

“Digital might become stronger in the years to come, but print will never die, especially for children’s books as parents and teachers prefer their children reading physical books and they want to limit their screen time. The joy of reading a comic book in print is different. But, we cannot undermine the ease of storage and amount of content, value for money when reading digitally, which makes it very attractive. Consumption of content becomes so much more,” adds Preeti.

On promoting love for reading….

“Don’t force your likes and dislikes on your children — allow them to make their own reading choices. Don’t put pressure on reading, create a happy atmosphere. This is what will help them develop a love for reading. Most importantly, how much are you reading? Children watch our actions. So, parents who read, have children who love to read. Update your kid’s library from time to time just as you buy new clothes and shoes regularly, their mental and intellectual development needs new stimulation,” tells Preeti.

On a concluding note…

“We are blessed to have amazing content left behind by our visionary founder, Anant Pai. As a team, we are passionate about what we do; our mission is not just to keep the legacy alive but also take it forward by continuing to tell new stories month after month in all our publications, reaching Indian children around the world, through all possible media and technological innovations. We look forward to the continued love from our readers worldwide, in achieving this mission,” concludes Preeti.

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