Pratham – A book in every child’s hand

New ideas, scale and technology in storytelling

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Pratham Books
Rajesh Khar of Pratham Books

Our main idea is a book in every child’s hand” – Rajesh Khar, editor of Pratham Books, a non profit publisher.

On 1 January 2004, a group of friends set up the Pratham Books trust to ensure that every child gets a chance to read and learn in their mother tongue. The initiative emerged from the Pratham Education Foundation, when a group of people who worked in underpriveleged areas found that the only reading material available in their languages consisted of teacher learning material (TLM) aids to be used by teachers.

Khar explains, “Education has to be imparted to a child in her mother tongue. Language plays a very critical and despite being a country with a rich tradition of storytelling, children did not have anything to read in their languages. The group wanted to create a readership program on how to impart knowledge when you don’t have books.”

Pratham Books believes that stories written in the mother tongue help children to develop their language skills and trigger curiosity and imagination. The publishing house published 10-15 books initially; gradually the number reached hundreds of books annually. It now produces books in 24 Indian languages; each book is translated in these languages. “Last year we produced 700 books. This year we probably produced almost 1000 books,” Khar adds.

Storyweaver – content in 115 languages

Storyweaver, Pratham’s opensource platform, is a huge treasure chest of stories that allows anyone to create their own stories by downloading and translating the stories as long as credit is given. These can be downloaded in Word and PDF format, and printed and repurposed. The platform currently has 1,00,000 stories in about 115 languages. The transcripts are not limited to Indian languages and include spoken languages such as Khmer, dialects of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as tribal languages. The storyweaver platform has an offline feature as well that allows downloads of up to 15 books offline.

In fact, just yesterday, we were about to add another language spoken in Latin American countries,” Khar says. The platform also allows anyone to download illustrations for creating new stories. It also has audio, GIF and video libraries for incorporation in more engaging forms of storytelling.

DAB

Pratham books also has a book donation platform called Donate A Book (DAB). It is a unique platform where anyone who needs books can raise a campaign asking for books and the organization connects and guides them towards people who can donate books. Pratham books also collects crowdsourcing funds to provide subsidized books to those who are in need of quality reading material.

Read-along audio stories

Pratham Books launched Readalongs and Hyper Local Libraries in 2018. Readalongs are a set of audio stories in Hindi and English for children to engage them in reading. “Readalongs help children not only to develop reading skills but also teaches them how to pronouce particular words, improve fluency in the language and teaches them the correct accent. Sometimes, supervisors, teachers or parents might not be able to give sufficient attention to a child. Readalongs are meant for children who enjoy reading,” Khar informs.

Hyper Local Libraries encompass local reading material. The local translators translate a story in their language which can later be printed or go online. Pratham Books empowers them with complete independence to assemble their libraries and content.

Giving an insight on the new developments at Pratham, Khar explains, “From this year, we are launching non-fiction in story-like form. Subjects like science, maths, environment, and history will be presented in a child-friendly manner so that the child will feel like she is reading a story while learning facts.”

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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