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Getting Young India to Read

Palak Zatakia is on a mission to debunk the theory that ‘cerebral’ content is only for a few

Attractive, young, happy Asian woman using smart phone

This story is part of our new series, “Creating for Creators”, which explores products being built for creators in India

Sneha is a first year Bsc student in Bikaner, Rajasthan, who aspires to the Indian Administrative Services (IAS). Every evening she receives a link from a WhatsApp Broadcast List called ‘Read This Today’. Today’s recommended read is an article by well-known columnist and venture capitalist, Morgan Housel, called ‘Why We Are Terrible At Predicting Happiness.’ The link is accompanied by a short summary of the article. Sneha mostly skims through this summary, although of late, she has started to click through to a few articles. English is not her primary spoken language and she often struggles with the long-form content. Why does she bother? The answer is multi-layered and 24 year old, college-dropout turned entrepreneur, Palak Zatakia, thinks he may have the answer.

Today, 62,000 readers like Sneha receive a link to a recommended article and a summary from a free service run by Zatakia, called ‘Read This Today’. Since WhatsApp only allows 256 people per broadcast list, this means Zatakia must manually send the link to 242 broadcast lists every single day. He hasn’t moved to email because he feels it doesn’t lend itself to a daily, single link format.

The growth of ‘Read This Today’ has been organic. In 2017, Zatakia started sharing articles he enjoyed with a few friends, who then shared them further. A post on Facebook got him his first hundred subscribers and his audience grew from there. The virality and growth of ‘Read This Today’ was definitely helped by the fact that a large chunk of his early reader base comprised students, who are still an important constituency. As word has spread, young entrepreneurs and professionals have joined the list. Bhupender Dwivedi, a marketer from Meerut says the articles helped him develop new perspectives. He confesses that at times he has to read the recommended article twice to understand it, but he has never skipped one yet. His favourite? “Two More Things to Unlearn from School“ by Eliezer Yudkowsky.

The Secret Sauce

Zatakia says his subscribers are spread over 80 countries, with over 90% of his readers coming from India. Based on anecdotal evidence, a large chunk of his readership comes from Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities and English is not the first language for the majority. What’s the draw?

Zatakia points to these factors that have helped him grow his readership:

  1. An unmet need for content that helps in self-improvement, motivation and career progress. Zatakia classifies this as ‘content that feeds the mind without an expiry date.’ He carefully excludes current affairs, politics, trending news or entertainment and pays attention to the nuances. For example, he watches the balance between Western and Indian authors and is mindful of including as many female authors as possible. He speaks to his readers often to get feedback and says that they are all hungry to get ahead. They understand that textbooks and curriculum or even ‘cramming courses’ are not enough. They see this content as a missing part of their education, debunking the theory that ‘mass audiences’ will only consume sports, news and entertainment.
  2. The assurance of curation: The content that Zatakia provides may be free to access, but the value for his readers lies in the curation. The fact that he has actually read each of his recommendations, and summarises them himself, adds authenticity that is hard to replicate.
  3. Including a short-form summary: Although WhatsApp provides no monitoring mechanism, anecdotal evidence points to the fact that most readers are content to read the summary when they start. They move to clicking through to the article as they become more confident. Zatakia says that starting with a book is the biggest mistake people make when they try and develop a reading habit. It can be overwhelming and most will give up the attempt.
  4. The consistent, daily link format: The daily delivery of a link and short form summary via an app that users check regularly, has proved to be habit-forming

The organic success of his WhatsApp broadcast led Zatakia to explore whether there was a product in the offing.

The Next Step: Sublist

After three years of running ‘Read This Today’, Zatakia has launched Sublist – an app where people can subscribe to multiple broadcast lists based on their content preferences. He agrees that this is a direct response to his own pain point of running multiple WhatsApp lists. While the app is still in beta, the objective is to make the interface as easy to use as WhatsApp. Zatakia also wants to keep Sublist as ‘autonomous’ as possible, without algorithms controlling discovery and consumption, although he admits that this will be challenging as the app scales.

Is there room for one more content app in the market? Will Sublist address a need gap for young, ambitious Indians? Only time will tell, but there is no denying Zatakia’s sharp understanding of content consumption and distribution. He grew his Twitter following from 4,000 to 23,000 in three months, experimenting with a strategy where he posts threads on Indian brands like Haldirams and MDH. “The brands need to have some awareness but not too much” he explains, “that’s when people want to learn more.”

There is now a small team that works on Sublist, but Zatakia continues to personally curate recommendations for the WhatsApp lists. There are sixty two thousand people across the world, waiting to see what he will ask them to read today.

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